Intel says manufacturing is sexy again

A whopping 700 pages of research from Intel reveals the missing skills for Industry 4.0. Intel researcher Dr. Irene Petrick tells us her insights from the report.
Written by Kelly McSweeney, Contributor

 Dr. Irene Petrick (Senior Director of Industrial Innovation) is to the left, on the ground; Faith McCreary (Principal Engineer, Experience Architect & Researcher, IOT Experiences) is to the right, on the ladder; they're standing next to their research, which amounts to 77 inches of paper.


"We're now in a complete transformation, where the most important skills are what we call digital dexterity," says Dr. Irene Petrick, Intel's senior director of Industrial Innovation.

Intel supplies components such as wafers and solutions such as AI programs for manufacturers. Patrick, along with colleague and Dr. Faith McCreary, spent the last two years studying industrial trends. They investigated 404 manufacturing and ecosystem company participants, including 193 technologists -- the people who are directly responsible for adopting industrial technologies. The researchers compiled their findings 700-page document that is being split into more accessible segments.

Today, Intel released the latest installment of the study of Industry 4.0 in a report called called "Accelerate Industrial," which reveals that workers aren't properly trained for the skills that are needed for the latest industrial technology. We spoke with Petrick to find out about the challenges and potential growth in the manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing was once about manual labor, but today's industrial careers depend on an evolving skillset. We're right in the thick of the next industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, which involves making the manufacturing sector more digitized and automated.

"This is an opportunity space that is much richer in opportunities than past manufacturing environments have been which have been perceived as being dirty and dark and dank," she says.

Previous generations of industrial workers stood in assembly lines and did the heavy lifting, but today's factories are a very different scene. Modern industrial careers require an in-depth knowledge of coding, artificial intelligence (AI), additive manufacturing (3D printing), and systems engineering.

"Manufacturing is getting sexy again," Petrick says.

After a long period of stability and minimal change, the industrial sector is now shifting, and manufacturers are investing in new technology. More than 80% of the technologists that Intel surveyed reported that their company plans to invest in advanced technologies in the next two to three years. However, there is trepidation about how they'll use the new technology. Despite the strong interest in digital transformation, 54% of the technologists expressed concerns and worry about their ability to keep up. Most job training programs and policies don't prepare workers for these future technology skills.

"Robotics gets a really bad name in terms of pushing workers out of their jobs," says Petrick. "The reality is that there are not enough people to fill or to backfill the retiring workforce in the manufacturing sectors in the developed world, especially. And there are not enough people with the requisite knowledge coming in. So we're going to have to rely on robotics as a supplement to the diminishing workforce in this space."

A 2018 study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute revealed that the skills gap is expected to leave an estimated 2.4 million positions vacant by 2028, which will have an estimated $2.5 trillion negative impact on the US economy.

Petrick is optimistic that new manufacturing technology will help get more people excited about industrial careers.

"Young people aren't necessarily interested in standing at a fixed location on an assembly line," Petrick says. "But when you start talking about programming robots on the floor, using intuitive tools around cobots, for example, where you're actually going to interact with a robot outside of the cage, that gets pretty interesting. When we start talking about simulating design around 3D printing -- that gets pretty interesting. So some of the digital opportunities seem to appeal to the younger workers much much stronger."

And what about the existing workforce? Traditional training programs aren't dynamic enough to keep up with the changes that are happening in today's workplace. Intel found that the top five skills that technologists said will be required to support Industry 4.0 are:

  1. Deep understanding of modern programming or software engineering techniques.
  2. Digital dexterity, or the ability to leverage existing and emerging technologies for practical business outcomes.
  3. Data science.
  4. Connectivity.
  5. Cybersecurity.

Manufacturing skills -- which you might expect to be a top priority -- came in sixth on the list. There's a new skill set required, and it's still evolving. The old-fashioned training programs are too short-term and limited. Traditional degree programs that end when you graduate won't suffice either. Instead, Petrick suggests that workers should expect to be continuous learners. Employers and educators are going to have to change the way they train the workforce. They will need to develop more flexible, ongoing learning environments that can evolve with the industry. 

Petrick explains, "We expect that you're going to see smaller training initiatives that are modular, so that the employees will have to take one module and then apply it and do some things and then take another module that is much more tailored to that particular employee's job responsibilities today and the intended future roles that that employee wants to have."

Industry 4.0 will require workers who understand technology such as robotics, IoT, 3D printing, virtual reality, and exoskeletons. In other words, they need people who can handle today's most exciting technology. However, manufacturing is a conservative industry that involves heavy machinery and dirty jobs. Will manufacturers follow the lead of hip technology startups by using flashy office perks to attract talent?

"I don't see ping pong or beer becoming part of an industrial ecosystem," Petrick laughs. 

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