Industry 4.0 marries physical production and operations with smart digital technology, machine learning, and big data. This creates a holistic, better connected ecosystem for companies focused on manufacturing and supply chain management. This article offers insight into how Industry 4.0 impacts the manufacturing floor.

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Industry 4.0 promises to transform every aspect of manufacturing, aided by a full range of new technologies, including cloud computing, predictive analytics, blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and automation, 3D-printing, and artificial intelligence (AI).

These innovations will drive efficiency, streamline processes, improve performance accuracy and quality control, enhance supply-chain management, and improve visibility.  However, many organizations are failing to address one of the most important aspects of digital transformation — onboarding their workforce. Without employee buy-in, any digital transformation effort is likely to fail.

Why Manufacturers Struggle to Get Their Teams Engaging with Industry 4.0

2018 Deloitte survey revealed that the manufacturing skills gap could result in 2.4 million positions being unfilled between 2018 and 2028. In particular, the industry is struggling to recruit digital talent, skilled production managers, and operational managers.

As of September 2019, The National Association of Manufacturers reported that 522,000 jobs remained open in the industry. To address the current skills shortage, the group had aimed to train 1.86 million workers in partnership with the Trump administration.

This lack of digitally-minded talent in the manufacturing industry exposes those in the workforce who are less inclined to embrace and accept new technology. They might be wary of technology replacing their jobs, reluctant to embrace change, or apathetic about learning new skills. While the digital skills gap has been tied to older workers’ lack of digital adaptability, there are many older workers who are just as savvy — or more so — as their younger colleagues so be cautious about making assumptions about your team.

Only 26% of businesses consider change management strategies an important part of their Industry 4.0 adoption, and it’s the perfect storm for costly and time-consuming technology implementation failures.


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Smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0

5 Steps to Guiding Your Manufacturing Workforce through Technology Implementations

It’s widely understood that the success of Industry 4.0 depends on humans and machines working in symbiotic harmony. Putting in the groundwork to bring employees along on the journey will ensure businesses reap better returns on their technology investments.

Here are five steps to help onboard the workforce.

1. Prioritize What the Organization Needs

Throwing investments at multiple new technologies won’t transform a business overnight, but it will overwhelm employees. Similarly, there’s no need to adopt new technology simply because a competitor is doing so.

Instead, take digital transformation one step at a time, invest where it really matters, and be patient.

Identify which processes are already working efficiently and put them on the backburner for the time being. Instead, focus on areas where the business will truly benefit from an upgrade and set out clear, focussed objectives to make the changes happen.

2. Educate the Workforce on Upcoming Changes

The workforce will appreciate being informed at every stage of their organization’s digital transformation journey. This includes being updated on decisions long before they are implemented and being made aware of the scheduled rollout dates. This gives them the opportunity to prepare for the changes, raise concerns, and ask questions. They may seek reassurance that their job security will not be impacted by new technology.

It’s also important to educate employees about the benefits the new technologies will bring. Let them know how new technology will be used, who will be most impacted, and how existing roles will be enhanced. For example, the opportunity to reduce monotonous, everyday work in exchange for more creative tasks could help reassure employees that new technology will transform their working lives for the better.

3. Provide Training and the Opportunity for Employees to Upskill

Employees won’t get on board with the implementation of new technology if they’re nervous about being able to use it or fail to understand its purpose. To ensure digital transformation delivers on its promised benefits, employees will need training and continued support. Remember that people learn in different ways. Whilst some employees might respond well to online training ahead of technology implementation, others will need hands-on tuition.

It is often necessary to recruit new talent who are adept at working with technology, but it’s also worthwhile to upskill the existing workforce. Your longest-serving employees know the products and business inside-out, so retaining them is well worth the upfront investment that comes with upskilling.

4. Identify Digital Champions in Your Manufacturing Company

It can sometimes seem as though the entire workforce is resistant to change, but there will always be some who champion the implementation of new technology and have the skill set to embrace it. Find these so-called digital champions and leverage their enthusiasm and expertise to help influence mindsets across the organization. These employees are perfectly positioned to help because they are more likely to relate to and empathize with their peers’ reservations and struggles.

5. Consistently Review Change-management Programs

Once an organization has successfully implemented a new technology, educated and trained its staff, and identified digital champions, it’s important to continually assess and analyze the success of the investment. Are employees using and benefiting from the technology? Could further training be provided to improve employee adoption?

When organizations put their people first, change and acceptance happen faster, ROI is higher, and it’s possible to realize the full potential of a digital transformation.