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Workforce of the future

Industry will require more knowledgeable personnel with practical thinking skills and manufacturing process know-how.

With the recognition that low labor cost is not a sustainable competitive advantage, manufacturers worldwide are increasing their use of automation. Greater application and deployment of technology means industry will require more knowledgeable personnel with practical thinking skills and manufacturing process know-how. Industry analyst firm The Gartner Group thinks this will come in the form of a “citizen data scientist”—a person who creates or generates models that leverage predictive or prescriptive analytics, but whose primary job function is outside of the field of statistics and analytics.

The most important areas for automation engineers and technicians to focus on in the future are analytics, data science concepts, and manufacturing and production process knowledge, as well as how to apply skills in those areas to increase productivity, quality, profits, and flexibility. The availability of no-code development tools that empower subject-matter experts to create applications is another major trend. The simplest longstanding example of that is the spreadsheet, which enabled a wide range of people with subject-matter expertise to leverage computing.

A 2019 survey in the pharmaceutical industry reported the following six skills as necessary for success in the future: understanding equipment and processes; strong communications skills; firm understanding of software development and programming concepts; creative and detail-oriented thinking; ability to troubleshoot equipment; ability to perform complex system tests. The survey respondents noted that mentoring and Internet-based online training will continue to grow, since it is responsive, immediate, and efficient.

The growing application of mechatronics and collaborative robots will require automation personnel to understand the applications of these technologies. Automation professionals are essential to successfully selecting and applying these and other technologies, and important guides for management looking to maximize productivity.

The lack of a skilled local workforce will drive the need for training, as well as the use of remote-work processes, virtual assistants, artificial intelligence applications, and more.

Key elements and drivers

  • No-code development tools
  • Need for ongoing process optimization
  • Robotic and mechatronic applications
  • Accessible documentation and frictionless collaboration
  • On-demand and remote learning

Impact for industry

  • Manufacturing executive management needs to functionally understand automation possibilities.
  • Manufacturers need to educate employees about production processes.
  • Scaling and standardization of processes and technology solutions must occur.
  • Increased collaboration between humans and technology will happen.

For ISA members and leaders

  • Standardization potentially needed in new areas
  • Development of analytics strategies for production processes focused on industry applications
  • Functional data science training programs for operational technology and automation professionals
  • More and better online, on-demand training programs

This article is part of September/October 2020 InTech—the ISA 75th Anniversary Special Edition