Written by: Amira Boutouchent, Co-Founder & CEO, Bridgr, Canadian Delegate, 2017 G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance Summit

With shifting economic alignments, changing customer expectations and new/less expensive technology, the executives in the manufacturing industry can’t lead with just a common bottom line strategy. They need to constantly adapt to all the manufacturing changes that are happening, especially that technology is evolving faster than ever before! Today, we’re moving toward creating a data-driven factory of the future or what it’s been called Industry 4.0. These fast growing technology capabilities and connectivity didn’t only change the way companies are led, they are also deeply changing the way employees and enterprise work together!

In a new futuristic factory, the traditional 9 to 5 work day won’t be able to keep up. Companies will require a new generation of workers, that can adapt to a digitalized workplace and with skills to take their industry to the next level! Who are these new workers, what are the challenges they are facing and how can the manufacturing industry prepare its future? This is what will be explored in this article.

McKinsey defines Industry 4.0 as “the next phase in the digitalization of the manufacturing sector” This trend is driven by four disruptions, that can be summarized as follow: 

1) Internet of Things (IoT) which it’s defined by The Global Standards Initiative on Internet of Things (IoT-GSI) as “a global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies.

In other words, and if we stick only to the manufacturing world (Industrial Internet of Things – IIoT), it’s the social network of all the physical items in a factory from buildings to sensors! Imagine every item sharing it’s personal data, imagine what you could do by mixing all the data, for example making two machines become friends and exchange data for more efficiency! The purpose is to make manufacturing a smart and automated process! Here is a nice Infographic to understand how the trend is evolving.

2) With smarter, faster and cheaper robots, robotics is definitely something that is changing the manufacturing world. Robots are taking on more and more “human” jobs, doing simple but also more complex tasks: picking and packaging, testing or inspecting products, assembling minute electronics, etc. According to Pwc, the main question any executive in this sphere has today is “If prices keep declining and capabilities of robotic technologies keep expanding, is now the time to hire some automated help?” Knowing China is building the first robots-only factory, this question will become more and more relevant in the upcoming years!

3) Augmented Reality (AR). This would allow digital products to be projected onto the real world background, you will be able to see the product before actually creating it, and this would completely change the product design development as well as its production! It’s actually driving operational efficiency by reducing production downtime, quickly identifying problems, and keeping processes moving. Here is a good blog post on how AR is changing manufacturing.

4) Last but not least, 3D Printing (3DP). We’ve been hearing a lot of this technology these previous years and even if it’s still really young, it may revolutionize design, development as well as production. According to Pwc, “3DP has the potential to shrink supply chains, save product development times and increase customization offerings to changing customers with expectations that products be tailored to their preferences and needs. Indeed, 3DP has arrived on the factory floor and into R&D.” Here is good blog on how 3D Printing affects manufacturing

We can say that those are the main trends for today’s and tomorrow’s factories. Before investing in these technologies, companies will have to identify the most important and valuable data for them to collect, as well as determine the efficacy of the analytical structures needed to assess those data. We can  also easily imagine how this technologies can change the relationship between companies and employees as this digitization is creating new challenges for companies in terms of high expectation toward employees that usually lead to burnouts as well as retention problems. It also deeply changes the culture of the companies as employees tend to feel insecure and sometimes betrayed, leading to a less productive workforce and conflicts between employees and decision makers.

However, technology can also enable new behaviour in the workforce as people in differents location as well as time zones can work together remotely and keep focus on the same goals and vision. As a report on the digitalization of the workforce done by Deloitte state : “Companies no longer need to send workers on an expensive airplane ride to visit clients or collaborate with other teams. Technical and social mobility decouples people and organizations from physical geography and defined markets. Today’s workforces are freer to go where they want to work instead of staying where work originates. Easier access to skill development resources is making vertical moves easier, too, for both people and organizations.”

Digitalization has also been an enabler to a shift in paradigm in the way we hire, manage, train and retain talents. Companies don’t need to hire full time employees anymore, they can work on projects based hiring which enable them to work with freelancers as well as experts in different niche.

In an article from Bloomberg, where the authors explore if robots are taking over human jobs, we can read as a conclusion from their research that  “Robots do replace workers. On the other hand, some industries that don’t automate end up losing workers anyway, because their costs are too high and their customers go elsewhere. For workers, robots are only part of the problem.”. All these changes, create a strong feeling of insecurity in the workforce as people feel they can be replaced at any time; actually a lot of them will be replaced but a lot of new jobs will be created too. Indeed, a well known research states that : “65% of Today’s students will be employed in jobs that don’t exist yet”. The questions now is what are thoses future jobs?

Some MIT researchers led a global study which identified the emergence of new categories of human jobs, that we can resume as follow:

 

  • The Trainers: This category of workers will be the ones training the technologies (mainly the AIs) to perform as the companies will need them too: “At one end of the spectrum, trainers help natural-language processors and language translators make fewer errors. At the other end, they teach AI algorithms how to mimic human behaviors

 

 

  • The Explainers: These workers will be the connectors between the technology people and the business people : “Explainers will help provide clarity, which is becoming all the more important as AI systems’ opaqueness increases. Many executives are uneasy with the “black box” nature of sophisticated machine-learning algorithms, especially when the systems they power recommend actions that go against the grain of conventional wisdom”

 

 

  • The Sustainers: The last category includes the people whose tasks will be to ensure that technologies are on the right path and provide sustainable solutions for businesses: “sustainers — will help ensure that AI systems are operating as designed and that unintended consequences are addressed with the appropriate urgency”

 

If we take into consideration what’s stated above as well as: first, the manufacturing world is shifting and all the processes implemented are subject to improvement thanks to technology. Second, by 2024, the manufacturing industry will have to change at least one third of its workforce as they will have to retire. Third, the manufacturing industry is in need of specialized individuals that can face tomorrow’s challenges and run specialized and digitalized operations (the new categories of workers). Fourth, Millennial are a digitalized generation and finally as Anil Saxena, Partner at Great Place to Work and an expert on workplace culture said “Manufacturing companies clearly understand now that, in order to be exceptional and successful, it’s not just about hiring hands. It’s about hiring and engaging heads and hearts“. We can say that one of the biggest challenges a digitalized manufacturing industry will have regarding its connected workforce is attracting, training and finding creative ways to work with millennials that don’t know anything else than a digitalized word; The challenge will be to make them shift toward the new categories of jobs that the industry will need.

The manufacturing industry is an industry that is going sooner rather than later toward a digitalized workforce with what it means of challenges. This industry with its traditional culture focused on human interaction and very specialized skills will have to adapt to a generation of workers that have a complicated relation to technology as they are used to be connected, are looking for more flexible ways of working but are deeply challenged and overwhelmed by all the digitalization of its workplace.

The digitalization of the workforce is something that the manufacturing industry will definitely have to face by shifting some of its core culture paradigme and this will definitely be something interesting to see.

About Amira:
Amira Boutouchent is the co-founder and CEO of Bridgr, a technology company that helps small and medium manufacturing companies find and collaborate with the right curated experts to solve operations challenges. The company was part of the winter 2016 Founder Institute graduates. Amira is a computer science engineer from Algeria and held an MSc in Management from HEC Montreal and was selected by Futurpreneur Canada to represent Canada at the 2017 G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance (G20YEA) Summit. Futurpreneur Canada is Canada’s only national, non-profit organization that provides financing, mentoring and support tools to aspiring business owners aged 18-39, helping launch 8,100 businesses across Canada since 1996.

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