While the media often points to worries about robots and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) taking manufacturing jobs, the experts say that technology has the potential to enhance existing jobs as well as create more for greater productivity. Martin Strutt, a 4IR expert at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, and Vikram Singla, of Oracle, recently recorded a podcast on how digitisation is changing the nature of the manufacturing workplace and job roles.
“In some ways, jobs won’t change at all and in other ways, they’ll change massively,” Vikram says. “You still need leaders who have the character to build the trust of customers and employees, people across departments that encourage collaboration and facilitate cultural change and engineers with technical skills.
“What’s changed is the pace that people need to learn and unlearn, how they work together and learn new things. Company culture needs to encourage flexibility to take advantage of opportunities.”
Martin adds, “We’ll always need mechanical engineers, but increasingly they need digital software skills to perform their jobs well.”
He believes that companies should focus on adopting and developing problem solvers with analytics competencies, and technical skills will follow and evolve. He says, “If someone has done the same job in the same way for ten years, they will struggle in this new, changing world. You want to recruit or develop people who are constantly looking to innovate, to try new things in new ways.”
While some companies are looking to bring in new workers, others are looking to enhance skills and therefore, the productivity of their existing workforce with cobots – robots that work alongside people. Rather than being fenced off from workers, cobots can take on repetitive tasks alongside humans who have their time freed up to provide value-added and dexterous skills. With the price of these technologies dropping rapidly, it’s no wonder many businesses – particularly in light assembly – are changing their processes and plants to take advantage.
However, Vikram cautions against just focusing on robots or other in-plant technology. He says, “The traditional view of manufacturing focuses mostly on improving the plant. However, companies should also be looking at how technology can enhance other areas, such as product development, finance, and customer service. The more you shift towards servitisiation and improving your service, the more you will be able to meet customer needs in a changing environment.” He also points out that having strong leaders in the C-suite is just as vital for thriving in 4IR.
Before looking to hire new people to fill technology roles, Martin advises finding out and exploring what’s possible by visiting other companies and networking with others through organisations such as EEF. He also says companies should involve as many people from across all departments to help strategise about how best to implement a programme of change for future success. A Business Growth expert can help plan this 4IR transition.
To listen to the previous three podcasts in the Workplace of the Future podcast series, presented in partnership with Oracle, visit our Be Business Ready page.