Developing the right skills for Industry 4.0

4 mins read

Manufacturers have to consider the impact that implementing Industry 4.0 will have on their workforce, and the skills that will be needed in the future

You could say that nothing much has changed with Industry 4.0. The over-arching goals for business remain the same. Manufacturers and engineering firms are still looking for increases in quality, efficiency, flexibility and resilience. But – and it is a very big but – the essential characteristics are very different.

At its core, Industry 4.0 is about an extensive integration of customers and suppliers. That means we have to think beyond our own production and process boundaries. We need to look towards and think creatively about how we couple together products and services, so we can continue to deliver greater value for ourselves and for our customers. This additional value could come in the shape of another key component of Industry 4.0: personalisation. Industry 4.0 enables us to cope with tremendous variety while keeping costs manageable and the production process flowing.

The question is how we can go about implementing Industry 4.0 in our own organisations – and the effect this change will have on our people.

Implementing Industry 4.0

We see two clear approaches to implementing Industry 4.0. For greenfield sites and new production lines it is possible to take a top down approach. This could involve totally new business models.

To create a successful greenfield Industry 4.0 site, an interdisciplinary team will need to be formed, bringing together a multi-discipline team from production, development and IT. Each of these individuals and departments must have a common understanding of what Industry 4.0 means and what it can deliver within their own organisation.

However, the majority of UK manufacturing businesses will be tied to their existing production lines and equipment. Here, a bottom-up approach can be beneficial.

This means careful management and planning for required investment, measured against the returns needed to keep the business stable during change.

A lot has been said about the need to have efficient and lean production processes in place before adding in technology. Whatever changes are identified, people should be at the core of any planning for the future.

Reverse-engineering Industry 4.0

To bring your people on-board, you need to reverse-engineer Industry 4.0. That means starting with the end in mind. Employees need a clear and compelling vision for the future if they are to know what’s expected of them. Rather than just presenting what you’re going to change supported by facts and figures, get them to understand why change is required and why they are important in making it work. Set a clear destination that your people can buy into and make a real case for Industry 4.0.

The next step is to plan how you and your people will achieve the change. Being clear on where you’re going makes it easier to plan the milestones and to identify key areas where you can engage your people – and equally where you may lose their commitment. Communication is key, especially celebrating and marking achievements of the project and of individuals.

Underpinning each part of the plan is what every individual contributes to the change. This isn’t about telling your people what they should be doing. It’s about letting them figure it out, come up with the ideas and how they’re going to contribute. Then they’ll take ownership and be committed to making the project a success. Just imagine how much time your line managers would save if they had a committed and engaged team, working for – rather than against – Industry 4.0.

A new type of leadership is required

Undertaking a major change project like implementing Industry 4.0 requires everyone to be on board. However, it also poses some specific challenges for leadership teams. That’s because, just as technology changes, so every aspect of how we work is disrupted. And there are some major disruptions (see graphic, below):

1 Faster, younger and more dynamic organisations want your market share. Research has shown that the lifespan of top companies has been reduced from 61 years in 1958 to just 18 years today.

2 In a world with an ever-increasing rate of change it is impossible to survive without timely transformations. Leadership and managerial responsibilities need to be dispersed throughout a network – not controlled from the top of a hierarchy.

3 Production line skill sets will need to cross not just mechanical and electrical control boundaries but also IT. As technology develops rapidly, leaders must harness the talents of individuals to explore and maximise new technological advancements.

4 With Industry 4.0, machinery is always on, connected and making their own decisions. M2M and M2H communication will drive new standards for communication and offer huge benefits.

5 Communicating change in a disruptive environment means not having all the answers. Leaders need to be able to walk the talk, keep focussed on the core objectives while not being able to answer the concerns of every employee – such as the long-term impact on production or existing jobs.

The impact on production

Industry 4.0 will bring with it many changes. And we need to prepare for how this will impact on our people. We will need to qualify them for new technologies, new business models, new resources and new structures and processes.

If I take my own experience, I’m an ageing engineer with valuable skills and knowledge but edging closer to retirement. As an apprentice, I honed my skills building traction engines. My first six months in the factory were spent in maintenance, with responsibility for the H4 headlight line. If I’d stayed in that role, would my skills still be relevant today? No.

Today, as a maintenance engineer my first tool out of the box is an iPad. I need IT skills. I need to be able to work across teams making decisions and liaising with suppliers. My skills have changed. And I’ve had to adapt to new technologies and methodologies.

The success of Industry 4.0 will not be down to the technology or big data or the cloud. Success will be down to our people, at all levels. They need to have the knowledge, skills and creativity to capitalise on what Industry 4.0 can achieve. Then they’ll be in the right position to boost not just your business but also their own future.