Unless we start investing in digital tools that connect our workers and help foster knowledge sharing and communication, we are not helping them take on more advanced equipment and complex problem solving.

Are We Preparing Our Workforce for Industry 4.0?

Contributed by | Poka

When we think about Industry 4.0 or the “Smart Factory”, a few things come immediately to mind – IIoT, robots, 3D printing for example. There is unfortunately not enough attention given to the worker in this emerging industrial world unless it is to discuss concerns over potential job losses.

But experts agree that the transformation underway will result in net job creation, not loss. They also agree that different skills will be needed, and overall, workers will need to be more skilled. In an article on the impact of Industry 4.0, Boston Consulting Group, wrote “The number of physically demanding or routine jobs will decrease, while the number of jobs requiring flexible responses, problem solving, and customization will increase. “

The key to supporting the development of these skills in our workforce is to provide access to information and to build a culture of continuous learning. That means connecting our workers in the same way that we are connecting our machines and systems – IIoP (people) in addition to IIoT (things).

With so many competing priorities and solutions it’s no surprise manufacturers have a tough time determining what is the best approach to solving a challenge like this one.  In my experience, the best place to start is with a solid understanding of your requirements.

Here are the top 3 requirements to keep in mind as you build your digital ‘connected worker’ strategy.


In-the-flow learning

The most common approach to training new operators is through on-the-floor shadowing. Unfortunately, this not only presents scheduling and overstaffing challenges, but the opportunity to learn is limited to the scenarios that occur during that shadowing period. What’s more, according to a recent manufacturing training survey of 426 industry professionals published by Poka and IndustryWeek, more than half of the companies surveyed devote less than 2 hours per month on ongoing skills development. For these reasons, it is essential to make work instructions, troubleshooting tips and standard procedures available on the factory floor. And the information needs to be short-form, micro-learning content - ideally 2-minutes or less, video-based and on a specific topic or problem.


Capture continuous improvements

As more workers head into retirement, tribal knowledge is lost forever. Providing authoring and publishing tools on the factory floor, that enable workers themselves to document unexpected issues, capture solutions and make recommendations for improvement creates an organic continuous learning environment. Role-based settings can ensure that versioning is strictly controlled to meet ISO compliance and that content is only shared once it has gone through the required approval process.


Communication channels for sharing

Factory floor workers historically have been isolated from many of the benefits and efficiency gains of digital processes. By making messaging channels available to operators, we can connect them to equipment experts and maintenance to help resolve issues more quickly. Communication between shifts also becomes easier with the digital equivalent of a logbook, centrally tracking all the major events, including downtime and maintenance, from one shift to the next.

Unless we start investing in digital tools that connect our workers and help foster knowledge sharing and communication, we are not helping them take on more advanced equipment and complex problem solving. In other words, the answer to the opening question is an emphatic “No, we are not preparing our workforce for Industry 4.0”.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of ManufacturingTomorrow

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