The lack of skilled a US workforce may hinder adoption

By Sarah Boisvert @FabLabHub

In 2016 HP unveiled its highly anticipated production-level 3D printer at SME’s annual RAPID conference.

No surprise to anyone following the 3D additive manufacturing industry, the entry of a major tech player into the space would generate a great deal of buzz.

Most importantly, the new HP 3D printing system rocketed the technology forward to production capabilities previously not seen. Leading-edge machines were projected to be competitive with injection molding at about 55,000 parts. While still small numbers in relative terms, this jump in production volumes from one-off prototypes or very short production runs was significant for the discrete manufacturing industry.

As expected, the chatter at the RAPID conference was high for HP’s system. But interestingly, the comment I heard most frequently was, “I’d love to buy the new HP machine, but I don’t have anyone with experience in 3D Printing to run it.”

It turns out that lack of skilled workers is a key barrier to adoption of the innovations needed for true digital transformation to Industry 4.0.

The informal comments heard at RAPID were validated in 2017 research by the University of Louisville’s Ed Tackett.  In a study of over 1,700 manufacturers, 75.7 percent of the respondents reported that the lack of Additive Manufacturing professionals has limited their ability to add or expand 3D Printing functions in their factories.

FabLabHub study of 200 US manufacturers found this phenomenon to be true for other Industry 4.0 operations as well.  Predictive analytics, robotics, AI, AR/VR, cyber-security, IoT, Blockchain and generative design all required workers with new digital skills to facilitate implementation on the factory floor.

It seems blue collar jobs have become digital even for professions like CNC machining and welding. IBM CEO Ginny Rometty coined the term the “New Collar Workforce” to describe 21st Century workers who are operating, maintaining and repairing new technologies and equipment in Industry 4.0 facilities.

Ginni Rometty, Chairman, president, and CEO of IBM

Rometty’s characterization captures the imagination as it holds new promise for middle-class jobs.

Interestingly, the New Collar jobs often do not require a 4-year or even a 2-year degree.

At IBM’s US manufacturing plants, as many as one-third of employees do not require a college degree to meet job requirements. With the increasing cost of higher education, the option of good-paying, engaging careers in Industry 4.0 is an attractive option for young people or anyone looking to change careers.

The US Labor Dept. predicts a 2-million manufacturing worker shortfall by the year 2020, a short 1.5 years away. With the urgency of the skills gap, manufacturers are desperate for skilled workers for Industry 4.0 technologies.

This jobs landscape has given rise to innovative skill-specific training that meets employer needs while providing higher pay for New Collar workers. For example, alternative credentials such as Digital Badges and micro-certificates are creating opportunities without the need to incur large student loans debt.

Clearly, if a digital transformation is to take hold, businesses must invest in the training necessary for New Collar Workers.  Empowering employees with the skills needed to work with advanced technologies is good for business, people and society.

Creating the Digital Enterprise Transformation Culture

About the author

Sarah Boisvert is founder of the Fab Lab Hub, a part of the international Fab Lab network based at the MIT Center for Bits & Atoms, author of “The New Collar Workforce,” and founding director of DigiFabCon Follow Sarah @FabLabHub

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