Preparing young workers for Industry 4.0

December 4, 2018

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about Industry 4.0. What exactly is it – and how can companies prepare their workforces for it?

To the John and Jane Does of the manufacturing force – those whose parents worked on the line at the GM plant in Flint, or who work at Amazon’s massive warehouses moving product – Industry 4.0 can feel scary, not to mention threatening to their livelihoods. However, younger workers – especially those who fall into the millennial and Gen Z crowds – have explicitly expressed a desire for development in a few key areas. And these days, we are seeing breakthroughs at a pace we have never seen before.

What is Industry 4.0?

To truly understand Industry 4.0, it helps to take a quick look at how manufacturing has evolved through the first three industrial revolutions.

During the first industrial revolution, which took place in the late 1700s and early 1800s, manufacturing shifted from being heavily focused on manual labor to a more optimized form of labor performed by steam-powered engines and other machinery.

In the second industrial revolution, which took place in the early 1900s, the introduction of electricity enabled manufacturers to increase efficiency through making factory machinery more agile and mobile with mass production concepts like the assembly line.

The third industrial revolution, which started in the 1950s, saw the incorporation of electronic—and eventually computer—technology into factories. Digital technology and automation software came to the forefront and overtook mechanical and analog technologies.

When it comes to Industry 4.0 – which is unfolding right now – cloud computing software company Epicor puts it like this: “Industry 4.0 refers to a new phase in the industrial revolution that focuses heavily on interconnectivity, automation, machine learning, and real-time data. Industry 4.0, also sometimes referred to as IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) or smart manufacturing, marries physical production and operations with smart digital technology, machine learning, and big data to create a more holistic and better-connected ecosystem for companies that focus on manufacturing and supply chain management.”

Guiding your organization – and your workers – through this rapidly-changing business and technological landscape requires intention on the part of employers, but it’s by no means impossible.

Preparing young workers for Industry 4.0

According to a recent PEW study, the workers of tomorrow will need more than a fixed set of skills. The report mentions the skills needed for future success include a number of analytical, social and data skills, such as:

  • Process-oriented and system-oriented thinking
  • Journalistic skills, including research, evaluation of multiple sources, writing and speaking
  • Understanding algorithms
  • Networking and programming
  • Time management
  • Conflict resolution
  • Decision-making
  • Locating information in the flood of data
  • Storytelling using data
  • Influencing and consensus building

However, a report from Deloitte points out that less than 40 percent of millennials (and less than 30 percent of Gen Z workers) feel they have the skills necessary to succeed in the face of the fourth industrial revolution – and they’re looking to businesses to help prepare them for success in this new era.

Below, we discuss three key areas in which you can develop your up-and-coming employees and help them feel prepared for the technological transitions of Industry 4.0.

1. Soft skills

Though millennials are excellent information gatherers – and more willing to think outside the box – all that time spent behind the screen may be dulling their social skills, reports Forbes. In fact, some researchers have gone so far as to claim millennials are at a disadvantage in the workplace compared to the other generations because they lack some of the confidence required to reach out and make personal connections — even over the phone.

In this respect, many of today’s younger workers want help from their employers in developing critical soft skills necessary to succeed in today’s workforce, specifically in the areas of confidence, interpersonal skills and—particularly for Gen Z—ethics/integrity aptitude.

Not only that, but recent research shows the skills landscape is shifting from STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics). The most valuable roles, Deloitte reports, are those that enable machines to pair with skilled, cross-disciplinary thinkers to innovate, create and deliver services.

2. Technical skills

Machine operators and technicians play a critical role in most manufacturing and engineering businesses. This level of automation will only increase our reliance on maintenance skills and engineering expertise.

“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,” writes Neil Lewin of Training Journal.

Today’s technological workers want to know that businesses will invest in their development and help them prepare for the ongoing shifts and advancements on the horizon. Therefore, in addition to actively recruiting for these roles, manufacturers must upskill engineering and maintenance incumbents – especially with increasing turnover and retirement of older and more experienced workers.

3. Leadership skills

Young workers are hungry for feedback and are more likely to aspire to be top performers, experts or innovators. However, millennials are also the least likely of all generations to use stress-coping strategies such as pausing to consider the bigger picture, thinking through alternatives, and trying to look on the bright side, so it is essential for managers developing their younger leaders to take these factors into consideration.

Plus, the truth is simply that not every employee is cut out to be a manager. It’s important to recognize who high-potential employees are first, then give them opportunities to lead, monitor, measure and reward them, and provide ongoing coaching.

When it comes to Industry 4.0, the future has, in many ways, already arrived. Therefore, it’s essential to not only listen to what your employees are asking for, but to invest in the training and future of your current workforce. You’ll be glad you did.

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