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Manufacturing is merging with new technologies

November 23, 2020


Workforce Disruptions and Industry 4.0

Many academic and industry leaders believe society has entered the beginning stages of a fourth industrial revolution – Industry 4.0. While there is some debate as to whether Industry 4.0 is in fact a new era or just marketing jargon that represents the evolution of the current third industrial revolution, there is little debate that Industry 4.0 is causing massive disruption to the manufacturing industry and its workforce.

Industrial Revolutions

As a history guy, I feel obligated to give you the background. The First Industrial Revolution resulted in large-scale production of goods through the use of water, coal and steam power. The Second Industrial Revolution came about through the invention of electricity and development of mass production through assembly lines. The Third Industrial Revolution resulted from the development of computers and the massive gains in the processing and sharing of information that emerged.

Now, the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is centered on the merging of capabilities of humans and machines. Through the use of new technologies – such as artificial intelligence (machine learning), the internet of things, augmented reality, robotics (including industrial robots, collaborative robots and autonomous robots), additive manufacturing, data analytics, predictive modeling, cloud computing, etc. – manufacturing is being transformed into a highly connected, intelligent, and ultimately, more productive industry.

Workforce Issues in the Era of Manufacturing 4.0

These new technologies are transforming the manufacturing industry and its workforce. The labor-intensive factory floor of the past is being replaced by smart manufacturing facilities with increasingly tech-savvy workers. Many of these companies are grappling with how to upskill their current workforce to take on new responsibilities made possible by Industry 4.0 and recruit new employees with the right skill sets.

Most investments in artificial intelligence and automation are not expected to displace human workers but rather combine people and technology in new ways. Ultimately, these new technologies will lead to a reorganization of tasks where automation displaces humans from repetitive and routine tasks, freeing them up to create more value and new opportunities. Therefore, investing in training and empowering their workforces in these new technologies will be critical for manufacturers going forward.

Technical Skills Gap

While most manufacturers are still in the early stages of implementing digital automation technologies, most companies lack the necessary technological skills to implement these solutions or understand the new skills required. Finding the right people with the right skills will be critical to implementing a successful plan.

New Roles Emerging

Implementation of these new technologies will identify those roles where humans excel over machines (leading, creating, judging, critical thinking), where machines outperform humans (executing repetitive tasks, analyzing, predicting, adapting), and those where humans and machines work best collaboratively, each complementing and extending the potential of the other.

Hiring for Roles That Don’t Exist Today

As these new technologies are implemented, Human Resources teams will be required to hire for positions that don’t currently exist. Some of these new titles include: data scientist/analyst, machine learning engineer, collaborative robot specialist, data quality analyst, and AI programmers and software engineers.

Skilled Workers Are in Short Supply

The skilled labor gap is not a new concept to today’s manufacturers – we have all seen that it has been a challenge for quite some time. However, as manufacturing evolves and becomes more automated and digital, the labor gap for these tech-savvy jobs will likely be even more pronounced. Manufacturing already suffers from a reputational bias: many high school and college students consider it unsafe or dirty. Attracting and retaining the best and brightest talent in these new areas will become even more competitive.

The two primary ways manufacturers are bridging the labor gap include:

  • Hiring from the outside. Many manufacturers are building relationships with academic institutions (local high schools, community colleges, trade schools and universities) in order to promote manufacturing and develop internships and apprentice programs that generate a pool of qualified candidates with these new skills.
  • Training and promoting from within. Other manufacturers are developing or outsourcing training programs for their current workers in order to provide them with the new skills needed for the future, whether that’s teaching them how to manage automated processes or take on creative jobs that are less likely to be replaced through automation. These companies understand that Manufacturing 4.0 requires a major investment in new technologies, but it also requires a major investment in its people.


Most manufacturers will find that they’ll need to undertake a workforce strategy that combines hiring from the outside and training and promoting from within.

As factories change and adapt as a result of Industry 4.0, so must its workforce. As Baby Boomers continue to retire, the manufacturing workforce will naturally become younger and more tech savvy. However, companies will need to implement effective change management throughout the organization to educate, train and upskill workers for the high-tech profession manufacturing is becoming. Contact us to learn more.

All content provided in this article is for informational purposes only. Matters discussed in this article are subject to change. For up-to-date information on this subject please contact a Clark Schaefer Hackett professional. Clark Schaefer Hackett will not be held responsible for any claim, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any information within these pages or any information accessed through this site.


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