There’s been a rather peculiar, seemingly contradictory, trend coming out of the manufacturing industry the last few months. According to a report by the Institute for Supply Chain Management, manufacturing activity rose up to 56% in August, jumping up nearly 2% from numbers recorded in July. Even more impressively, these numbers are the highest that have been recorded since January 2019! Impressive right?

What’s baffling many, however, is that in spite of this performance, the same report and many others illustrate that manufacturing employment rates have continued to fall for the 13th month in a row

Now, the industry is no stranger to a manufacturing talent shortage. It’s a rather commonly felt pain point in the sector, as a matter of fact. Yet, one would expect the improved performance and reliance on manufactured goods to have given the industry a bit of a boost in available talent. Unfortunately, that’s hardly the case. 

Manufacturing jobs have become more complicated with the onset of smart technologies such as industrial grade computers and sensors/software capable of running complex data gathering and analysis. Breaking into the factory floor is no longer an entry level task. It requires some expertise in specialized technology many aren’t familiar with. Couple that with the pandemic’s impact on manufacturers’ available resources/finances and it’s easy to see why the talent shortage is only growing as opportunities for more business increase. 

There is a way, however, to leverage some of those smart technologies we mentioned earlier in order to empower and improve the workforce you do have available.     

Misconceptions About Industry 4.0 VS the Manufacturing Talent Shortage

It may sound contradictory to say the smart technology that’s increasing the learning curve and creating the manufacturing talent gap can also help solve it. There are, however, some misconceptions that need to be cleared that may make this claim a little easier to digest. 

It’s Not a Rich Man’s Game Anymore

“Expensive is often the first complaint when small and medium-sized manufacturers are told to consider smart technologies. For a time, this was a valid complaint. However, industry 4.0 doesn’t need to be an all in or all out approach. It’s possible to dip your toe into smart manufacturing and gauge its viability for your business.

There’s a misconception about just how intensely one needs to delve into industry 4.0 solutions. Small steps and incorporations can cost much less than their fully implemented counterparts and, should you find success with your trial runs, more investment can be pumped into the projects to scale up their implementations.  

Not Every Piece of Tech Need Be Prohibitively Complex

The issue behind the manufacturing talent shortage is the complexity of industry 4.0 solutions many feel they need to implement in order to keep up with their competitors.

Right now, what’s important is to adopt a Lean Manufacturing approach. Don’t go crazy and simply throw in all manner of smart tech because you hear everyone sing their praises. Only incorporate the innovations you know you can afford and you know you have the staff to man. Getting by with as little investment needed to bridge the talent gap as possible will do manufacturers best, especially the smaller and middle-sized plants.   

With these misconceptions in mind, then, what are the recommendations for those looking to implement financially-feasible, less complex industry 4.0 solutions to address the manufacturing talent shortage?

Collaborative Robots

Collaborative robots in manufacturing are a solution tailor-made to address the manufacturing talent shortage. They’re incredibly cheap to implement, they streamline the ability to perform mundane, repetitive tasks, and they’re not complex in how they’re operated. 

We mentioned earlier that the goal of addressing the talent gap is to empower the employees you DO have currently. This is exactly what Cobots allow. Since they’re easy to operate, employees of yours can quickly learn to implement them into their workflows. And once they’re incorporated, repetitive tasks can be done without demanding a large share of an employee’s attention, opening them up to increased productivity in other tasks that require more of their attention.

One of the best parts about Cobots is that they teach employees, in a very approachable way, how to work in tandem with smarter technology. From there, they can slowly start to learn more about these machines, the kind of productivity metrics and data they deliver, and how further smart tech can be leveraged to produce even more productivity. Before you know it, employees begin to fill the talent gap just by virtue of performing their normal daily tasks.  

Gather Data From Only a Few Devices to Start

Of course, in the ideal scenario, every device, every device on your premises would be outfitted with sensors and deliver valuable data to a nearby Panel PC capable of using that data to inform smarter operational decision-making. And while that may be the case, this idealized vision of the “final form” of your smart factory shouldn’t abstract the fact that you need to start small with industry 4.0. 

Jumping head first into smart tech many weren’t ready for is what caused the manufacturing talent gap in the first place. In the interests of not widening that gap any further, consider outfitting only a couple of devices with the required sensors to gather data. This won’t cause massive shifts in how your business operates, but will still provide valuable insight into key metrics nonetheless. Not only that, in much the same way as Cobots, this smaller foray into smart manufacturing can give your employees time to ease into industry 4.0 solutions and develop some tech and data fluency. 

Take the time to take a small bite into smart manufacturing. Do you learn anything valuable from the data brought in from those one or two devices? If yes, you may be able to invest more into the hardware further down the line. By then, your employees will be comfortable enough to handle those more in-depth implementations. 

Start Reskilling the Employees You Do Have

When new talent isn’t entering your workforce, it’s up to you to empower your current employees with training programs that can help impart the skills needed to address the talent and positions you need filled. 

Whether you decide to upskill and teach employees new skills or plan on reskilling the workforce to transition employees into new positions you need filled, there are intelligent ways to go about it. Consider using digital curriculums such as Udemy or Lynda in conjunction with portable industrial tablets that can give employees the ability to travel the factory floor and learn first-hand how to operate devices and perform tasks needed to improve your business’ operations. 

Start Addressing the Manufacturing Talent Shortage With Your Workstations

When it comes to increasing your employees’ available skills and addressing the manufacturing talent shortage, starting with the hardware they use every day is always a smart choice. Empowering industrial workstations to draw in, store, and process data gives your employees the opportunity to experience smarter tech, training them and enhancing their skill sets in the process. For more information on the kind of hardware that makes this enhancement possible, contact a professional from Cybernet today.