If left unaddressed, the skills gap will cripple Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is on the horizon. But while the technologies are there, the required skills are not. Technology is beyond the ability of manufacturing employees to keep up.

A recent SYSPRO survey shows that while 38% of companies have up-skilled their staff to fully utilize enterprise systems, 61% have no plans to create long-term training programs to enable a digital workforce.

So while manufacturing is being transformed by new technologies, the employees who need to work with these advancements need to catch up, as the pace of innovation advances faster than employee skills. Unfortunately, as survey data shows, developing employees to use Industry 4.0 technologies is not a priority for manufacturers.

It is a dangerous situation. Industry 4.0 technologies typically require significant capital investment, as well as a substantial commitment of executive and IT time. If a company’s digital transformation journey does not include continuous skills development and training, as well as technologies that will further increase employee development, the Industry 4.0 initiative will most likely fail.

A lot of data confirms the importance of training employees and, more specifically, training them in new technologies. For example, training is key to recruiting Gen Z talent. Gallup59% of this generation say opportunities to learn and grow are key considerations when deciding where to apply for a job.

And the lack of training shows clear signs of growing business risks. Just over a quarter (27%) of IT decision-makers say they are satisfied that employees can use new technologies well, according to a recent survey by CWJobs. In addition, the training is paid. A large Accenture study showed that training provides a 353% return on investment. This echoes the findings of a large study carried out much earlier by the American Society for Training and Developmentwhich showed that the training budgets of large public companies provide for 50% of their future total returns to shareholders.

But it’s also common sense. After all, no matter how good the technology, it’s of no use if a manufacturer’s staff doesn’t know how to use it properly.

Skills development: a key part of the digital transformation roadmap

Enabling employees to adapt to Industry 4.0 technologies requires a deliberate focus on skills development. It must be at the heart of the business strategy to fill the significant skills gap.

To develop this strategy, management needs to determine what skills are required for the present and the future, whether the current workforce has them, and whether recruitment efforts are successful in identifying and targeting those who possess them. Generally speaking, any business embracing Industry 4.0 needs a workforce that is digitally savvy, big data analytics, and even familiar with technologies such as ERP, according to Indeed.com. Additionally, Industry 4.0 will require role changes and even entirely new roles, such as predictive supply network analysts, smart quality assurance (QA) manager and even smart factory manager. .

Manufacturers need a workforce ready for these changes.

Deployment of continuing education opportunities

Change management and continuous training must also be included in any digital transformation strategy. Both are critical to ensuring that a manufacturer’s investments in technology are embraced, adopted, and sustained.

For example, when updating an ERP system, employees’ first encounter with new features and capabilities should not be in the normal course of their work. There should be a change management process that ensures that the manufacturer’s upgraded and digital ERP system is utilized to its fullest extent so that the business can get the full benefit of its investment.

ERP and other technology vendors typically offer comprehensive digital courses that manufacturers can take advantage of to incorporate into continuing education programs. This way, employees can be kept up-to-date with new processes, capabilities, and features so that their skillset keeps pace with technological advancements.

Skills support from emerging technological tools

Fortunately, advances in technology have not exclusively increased the skills gap. New technologies such as low-code/no-code tools are emerging that can be used to shut it down. With these tools, employees without specialized coding skills can create workflows, applications, and point solutions that leverage their specific business and operational expertise. This democratizes software development, eliminating the need to hire a highly skilled resource for multiple projects, allowing those in-demand employees with coding expertise to focus on more complex, value-added projects.

Technology can also make the training itself more effective. According to World Economic Forum, successful training is more than just handing an employee the product manual. Successful training programs must have clear educational priorities and strong program design. Education and training technologies can be used to monitor and evaluate the results of a training program and then identify how the program can be improved.

Now is the time to start taking technology sophistication seriously, because manufacturing cannot afford to wait. A 2021 study conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute (MI) predicts that by 2030, the manufacturing sector will have 2.1 million job vacancies, costing the United States about $1 trillion in GDP. Industry 4.0 technologies can help mitigate the damage from future gaps, but only if manufacturing employees have the skills to use these technologies effectively.

Scott Hebert is the CEO of SYSPRO USA. For more information, visit www.us.syspro.com.