Training for Industry 4.0

Neil Lewin says we need to embrace Industry 4.0.

The advent of Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution – will bring with it an increasing dominance and reliance on technology to produce far reaching efficiencies across a wide variety of sectors. From innovations in sensors and computing, bio technology and simulation to nano technology, cloud computing, smart technology and robotics.

Advances in technology already mean that our health can be monitored remotely, our online shopping can be tracked, and the temperature of our homes controlled while we are still at the office. But many of these ‘new’ technologies have been around for decades.

Radio-frequency identification was first seen in the early 70s, 3D printing in the early 80s and augmented reality as long ago as the 60s. So why are these technologies being described as the key elements of Industry 4.0? Industry 4.0 is as much an organisational revolution as it is a technological one. 

It’s about how technologies communicate and work with each other, and how organisations identify, promote and develop the skills needed to make the most of these opportunities.

Today, technology, engineering and manufacturing are developing phenomenally quickly. These disciplines are colliding to create a manufacturing sector where products can be ordered, processed, manufactured and delivered without a pair of human hands being involved.

While this will change the landscape of manufacturing, this level of automation and artificial intelligence will only increase our reliance on engineering skills and maintenance expertise.

Technical training

Machine operators and technicians play a critical role in most manufacturing and engineering businesses. Alongside recruitment into these roles there is also a need to upskill those already in organisations. This pressure comes from a greater turnover of staff with older – and highly experienced – workers retiring.

Externally, manufacturing is competing against the shift towards a more knowledge- and service-based economy. If that wasn’t enough, there is also competition for UK skilled workers from the US and emerging economies.

In 2015, Festo’s own research showed that manufacturers have been facing an increased shortage of skilled labour, especially skilled engineers, for the previous three years. This is holding back the development of our manufacturing sector.

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If the UK is to become a driving force for Industry 4.0, every manufacturer needs to get involved in skills development, understand the skills needed in the factories of tomorrow, and invest in the development of these skills today.

Upskilling machine operators to diagnose faults and repair machines at source should mean that productivity will increase. It seems like a simple equation. However, technical training is not the simple answer. The UK has been researching skills gaps in industrial society since 1867 and the findings have consistently highlighted the same problem.

There’s no doubt that technology moves fast, but technical training can run alongside new machines. So there has to be a block in another area.

Leadership training

A massive 86% of respondents to the 2015 World Economic Forum Survey on the Global Agenda agreed that we have a leadership crisis in the world today. But leadership qualities need to be cultivated. In the Survey, four out of five regions prioritised training, coaching and mentoring as the best way to develop tomorrow’s leaders.

Just as employees might have to be reskilled, leaders will need to develop strong capabilities and qualities to tackle changes to the environment that Industry 4.0 will bring. This includes new competition in the market, with disruptive technology leading to young and innovative companies quickly gaining market traction.

Just as employees might have to be reskilled, leaders will need to develop strong capabilities and qualities to tackle changes to the environment that Industry 4.0 will bring.

Leaders will need to spot and react quickly to new competition on the horizon. Successful leaders will also need to move towards dispersing leadership and managerial responsibilities throughout a network. Leadership 4.0 needs to free up the decision-making process so leaders can quickly grab hold of new opportunities.

In a world where machines will be able to interact with their environment, and learn new behaviours and self-optimising strategies, leaders will need to harness the talents of their employees to fully explore, utilise and maximise new technological advancements. 

Perhaps most importantly leaders will need to communicate at a whole new level, particularly when the future is uncertain. As we move into Industry 4.0, open and honest communication will be the most important leadership skill.

Investing for the future

If the UK is to become a driving force for Industry 4.0, every manufacturer needs to get involved in skills development. They need to fully understand and develop the skills needed, both on the factory floor and in the board room.

Managers need to adapt their style to embrace the attributes of leadership and coaching. They need to clearly express the need for change and not just from the organisations’ perspective. If management and leaders do not engage their people in the need and desire to upskill themselves, then any technical training budget will be wasted.


About the author

Neil Lewin is senior consultant at Festo Training & Consulting


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