- The manufacturing industry is in the midst of a profound shift to digital technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, and internet-enabled sensors.
- But the skills needed to support that pivot are in short supply. As a result, some estimates say there could be millions of unfilled jobs within the sector in the next five years alone.
- Industry leaders say job seekers don’t need to be manufacturing experts, but rather have an eagerness to continually educate themselves on the latest technology.
- They need to “recognise that you are going to be a lifelong learner,” said Protolabs CEO Vicki Holt.
- Because of their work, Business Insider named some of the leaders featured in this article to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming manufacturing.
- Visit Business Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories .
The manufacturing industry is rapidly changing.
What was once a physically demanding field that was characterised by line workers and clunky machinery is now a high-tech operation that relies on advanced digital tools like internet-enabled sensors, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing.
“It’s high technology â€” it’s using software, it’s using advanced manufacturing techniques,” said Protolabs CEO Vicki Holt. “It’s not the dirty environment that you might have in your head.”
This transformation â€” one of the most profound industry shifts since Henry Ford invented the assembly line â€” is at risk of being slowed down, however, by a lack of talent. Some estimates say the sector could have millions of unfilled jobs in just the next five years alone.
That’s a key reason why there’s a massive effort across the manufacturing industry to upskill existing employees. It’s also why companies are now aggressively courting technologists regardless of their knowledge of the industry or specific applications like robotics, according to Verity Studios founder Raffaello D’Andrea.
“You could just do software and there’s huge roles for you as just a pure software engineer,” D’Andrea, who cofounded Kiva Systems before selling it to Amazon in 2012 for $US775 million, told Business Insider. “If there are two things that are of absolute necessity, it’s mathematics and programming.”
Business Insider spoke to several of the key executives who are leading the transformation in manufacturing to learn the skills that will help job-seekers stand out.
Workers should be able to connect the dots and
prepare to be ‘lifelong’ learners
Whether through forward-looking technology like AI or 3D printing, or back-end software like Salesforce’s customer relationship management tools, there’s no stopping the continued infusion of technology into the workplace. More than knowing every specific technology, job seekers need to “recognise that you are going to be a lifelong learner” says Protolabs’ Holt. A willingness to familiarise oneself with new tools is more important than any one hard skill: “You are never done learning.”
It’s also critical for those working on transformation efforts to understand the value proposition of investments â€” as well as how to track and broadcast the results to leadership, according to GE Digital chief technology officer Colin Parris.
“Nothing is being done unless there’s a financial appeal,” he told Business Insider.
Prospective job-seekers should know the value that data can bring to an organisation, Parris said, and how to tap into for financial or operational benefit.
“You may have data scattered that’s not really connected together,” he said.
New tools are unlikely to produce much of a tangible benefit unless they’re helping to meet business objectives, which is why more technologists are being ingrained into business verticals like supply chain, legal, and customers support.
“If you could have everybody in the company understand the financial implications of the decisions they were making, you’re going to have a stronger company,” said Ellen Kullman, the former CEO of DuPont and current CEO of 3D printing firm Carbon.
Experience working outside the IT function helps bridge the gap between what the digital tools can accomplish and what is most beneficial for the company right now.
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