Next-generation robotics and manufacturing processes, inspired by Industry 4.0, are prompting the need for a higher level of readiness within the American workforce. Currently, two out of five Americans agree the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) worker shortage is severe1, influencing a shift toward a more dynamic approach to education to adequately fill 3.4 million manufacturing jobs by 2025—2 million of which may go unfilled due to talent unavailability2. So, what can be done to support the staffing needs of the future?
Dedicate a Greater Emphasis to Robotic Automation
The general public perception that, “industrial robots are coming for our jobs,” must be changed, as nearly 87,000 robotics and mechatronics jobs will need filled by 20253. To move forward into the future and Manufacturing 5.0—where the “human touch” will merge with modern technology to create more value-added products and goods4—robotic automation must be a main focus of the educational system. Everything from additive manufacturing and big data, to artificial intelligence (AI) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), rolls into robotics. Thus, at the core of every skill set should be a keen focus on the concept of robotics.
Develop Different Primary Skill Sets
Job definitions are changing, and innovations and methodologies are shifting the primary skill sets needed to fulfill industrial tasks. Within the last decade the widespread use of industrial robotics has prompted the need for a variety of unique job responsibilities, such as robotics coordinators and robotic automation technicians. Keeping that in mind, educational curriculum and training should reflect the technologies and processes emerging today in order to maintain a competent workforce. Furthermore, education career pathways should focus on skill sets that help sustain careers in growing fields such as robot programming, robotic welding, collaborative robotics, vision system solutions and more.
Apply a Fluid Approach to Tech Implementation and Info Sharing
While there is a growing effort to introduce STEM-aligned curriculum to students at the elementary level, educators across the board are still unprepared to keep up with the demand for skilled-workers over the next five to ten years. To better support training efforts, technology and education (for all grade levels) must converge. Current innovations should be monitored, tracked and embedded into the classroom in a more fluid manner, and course curricula should continually be updated to reflect the latest technology, providing teachers with the tools needed to prepare students for the future.
Maintain Soft Skills Training
While the need for STEM-based education and opportunities is great, other skills should not be overlooked, as the use of automation is increasing the need for human intelligence, judgment and creativity. To successfully move forward into the future of modern manufacturing, workers must be able to effectively adapt to challenging situations. Skills such as active thinking, time management and interpersonal communication will be needed to fill the more personalized customer demands that Manufacturing 5.0 is introducing.
“Upscale” the Current Workforce
The road map for technology is constantly evolving. Proactive companies that have already embraced technology, especially robotic automation, need to focus on “upscaling” worker talent and redeploying workers to other jobs within the production facility. Investing in current employees by sending them to robot courses or skilled training can help companies better adjust to the influx of manufacturing complexity, creating a competitive edge in the process.
Form Strategic Partnerships
Yaskawa Motoman recently announced the formation of the Ohio Manufacturing Workforce Partnership. This strategic partnership with RAMTEC (Marion, Ohio) will support the State of Ohio in creating a highly sustainable workforce development model, providing Ohio educators and students with curriculum and training to become proficient in Industry 4.0 technologies. It is the hope that organizations in other states will form similar mutually-beneficial relationships with manufacturers, creating the foundation needed to move America’s workforce forward.
Partnerships of this nature will also help create in-lab and classroom instruction strategies, develop advanced industry-recognized robotic certifications, utilize augmented and virtual reality (VR) technologies to develop new training tools, and incorporate industry-utilized robotic equipment aligned to the industrial manufacturing base.
Sponsor Robotics Competitions and Events
Something else businesses can do to build a strong workforce is to support robotics competitions and events. Recently, Yaskawa Motoman partnered with The Intelitek STEM and CTE Education Foundation, sponsoring cyber robotics coding competitions across the country. With the need for skilled labor in coding, and with robotics and automation on the rise, supporting fun and educational programs like this can help promote technology studies to students at an early age.
Keep up the Enthusiasm
Events like National Robotics Week and the upcoming ACTE CareerTech Vision Expo in San Antonio, Texas (November 28-December 1, 2018) continue to drive optimism for the future of the robotics industry. Moreover, these types of STEM-centric events are essential building blocks to promoting advanced manufacturing careers in robotics and automation. While filling the job gap is easier said than done, significant strides are being made to bolster STEM education efforts, engaging, inspiring and preparing students for the manufacturing careers of the future.
1 [Fourth Annual STEM] Emerson Survey: 2 in 5 Americans Believe the STEM Worker Shortage is at Crisis Levels, Emerson, 2018
2 The Skills Gap in U.S.Manufacturing: 2015 and Beyond, The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, 2015
3 The Impact of Automation and Robotics on the Workforce, ARM Institute, 2017
4 What is Manufacturing 5.0?, Manufacturing.Net, 2018
Bob Graff is a Senior Sales Manager, Education at Yaskawa America Inc. - Motoman Robotics Division