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Report: Digitization Means Workforce Disruption, But Jobs Will Be There for Those Who Want Them

Posted By Jeff Moad, April 26, 2016 at 3:21 PM, in Category: Next-Generation Leadership and the Changing Workforce

Workforce_Pic.jpgManufacturing’s adoption of ever-greater levels of automation and disruptive new technologies such as advanced robotics and 3D printing doesn’t necessarily mean ongoing job losses, but it will mean a great deal of disruption, as displaced workers strive to update their skills and manufacturers struggle to retrain existing workers while attracting a new generation of workers who have different priorities than their predecessors.

That is the conclusion of a recently-released report from General Electric Corporation, entitled “The Workforce of the Future: Advanced Manufacturing’s Impact on the Global Economy.”

“The need for firms to continuously innovate to win does not equate to a net job loss, but rather a transition to the type of skillsets workers need,” the report states. “The supply of available talent, and shrinking working age population in developed and some emerging markets, means there will be jobs available for people who want them.”

The good news is that an array of emerging technologies enabling the more extensive digitization of the manufacturing  enterprise—some call this trend Manufacturing 4.0—will create new opportunities, particularly for what the GE report call Advanced Manufacturing companies in markets such as aerospace, engines, turbine, power equipment, semiconductors, petroleum products and industrial machinery. And those opportunities may result in decisions by manufacturers to emphasize production closer to customers and suppliers rather than outsourcing to low-cost locations.

“Advanced Manufacturing allows for the establishment of microfactories that leverage local talent,” the report states. The democratization of manufacturing could slow the trend to more globalization of markets.”

And that could represent a significant number of high-paying new manufacturing jobs, particularly since advanced manufacturers tend to pay more than other manufacturers, the report says. The report predicts that the number of STEM-related jobs at advanced manufacturing companies could grow by 9 million between 2012 and 2022.

Workers well-suited to driving success in an M4.0 world, the report predicts, will need higher levels of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, and they will need to be highly adaptable, intent on keeping their skill sets current through rapid changes in the manufacturing environment.

But even advanced manufacturing companies will face challenges retooling the workforce rapidly enough to take advantage of the opportunities, particularly in the face of the accelerating retirement of Baby Boomer generation workers.

The report recommends several steps that manufacturers, government, and educators should take to accelerate the retooling of the workforce. Among them:

  • Advanced manufacturing companies should work more closely with high education to fashion curricula that will produce next-generation workers with needed skills;
  • Manufacturers and governments should allow for expanded recruitment of math and computer-educated workers from outside the country;
  • Manufacturers should work to recruit more women into manufacturing. “Without shrinking this gender gap and targeting glass ceiling compensation imbalances between genders, the drive to increase the talent pool of STEM professionals cannot succeed,” the report states;
  • Government should focus educators more on STEM education in early grades;
  • Government should increase investment’s that encourage students to enter—and pay for—STEM education. “Providing financial incentives to students who undertake STEM training will help,” the report says. Companies could offer student loan forgiveness packages to new hires in lieu of or in addition to stock options or 401k matching. They could also offer housing assistance to allow recent graduates who are burdened by their student debt to leave their parents’ nest."
  • In order to attract and retain more young workers to manufacturing, employers should emphasize what it calls “soft” benefits such as flexible work schedules and role and work location rotations.

Written by Jeff Moad

Jeff Moad is Research Director and Executive Editor with the Manufacturing Leadership Community. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Program. Follow our LinkedIn Groups: Manufacturing Leadership Council and Manufacturing Leadership Summit

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