Technology is transforming every industry today, with manufacturing at the forefront of the change, in terms of both scope and speed. It has always been this way. The Industrial Revolution brought conventional manufacturing. Let’s call this Generation Zero – the metaphorical ‘ground zero’ of what was to follow. Then came Generation One, from 1970 to 2005, an era when new hardware and software rapidly improved automated processes. Today we are nearing the end of Generation Two, characterized by the transformational power of radical improvements in software that streamlined processes and more effectively utilized data. While each company will progress at their own rate, next year, manufacturing begins it’s shift to Generation Three, with machines coming into their own, teaching and learning from each other.
Note the timing: it took nearly three-quarters of a century to move from Generation Zero; the next shift was achieved in less than half that time. Still, Generation One was a time when a factory worker could learn a skill and do almost the same job for an entire career. Generation Two lasted only 15 years, and we already have another shift upon us. Rapid, transformational change is the new normal.
Change, however, can be unsettling, especially for workers who may have chosen a trade passed down by earlier generations of their families, the kinds of jobs that represented stability. Today, job training isn’t one and done but a lifelong process of learning. Companies can relieve a lot of employee stress around new technology by fostering a learning environment: even as new technology will make some parts of a job obsolete, individuals can be skilling up to learn new skills as their role changes. For people willing to learn, there is stability in change.
Companies might think they have dealt with change because they have already automated and undergone digital transformation. But the next generation goes beyond automation to become both autonomous and predictive. Machines are not only doing the physical work but are also thinking, thanks to artificial intelligence. This amplifies the effects on the workforce beyond what’s previously been felt.
That means training needs to change to help people become fluent in AI. We’ve identified 165 roles for future jobs. We’ve broken down the roles into seven domains of technical expertise. To prepare workers for the jobs of the future, we’ve found that short, focused upskilling—six months or less—works best (See: Employment in the Production Line). Too much information presented over too long a period makes employees feel they’re drinking through a firehose. Short sessions, that leverage badges to show employees and managers which skills have been learned, give workers a sense of accomplishment. Repeating training or refresher courses are often needed to cement the new knowledge—and not a sign that the original training didn’t work.
In our “Humans Wanted” report, while all employees will need upskilling, for up to 35 percent of workers, less than six months of training should be enough to lift them to the next level. Nine percent will need six to 12 months, while 10 percent will take more than a year to upskill to achieve a next-level position.
Digitization isn’t eliminating jobs, but it will impact most roles/functions. Meanwhile, it’s also creating new functions, and creating job growth on the whole across the manufacturing sector. With manufacturers facing a skills shortage, upskilling is essential to fill the gap. Nobody can predict the future, but with the right skills, a culture of learning and a focus on helping people develop their careers for in-demand jobs, we can be better prepared.