Automation Creates Need for New Skills, Roles for Manufacturing Employees

By October 15, 2019Power of the Profession
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Three-quarters of respondents to our Future of Supply Chain 2018 survey expect a net decrease in manufacturing jobs by 2025. However, 77% also believe that people will be at the center of an automated factory of the future, providing the flexibility and decision-making capabilities required to deal with demanding customers.

This seemingly contradictory survey data is explained by the changing nature of work, driven by the ability of technology to augment and enhance humans, rather than eliminate them from production.

Nearly 80% of survey respondents say the ability of employees to learn and adapt to new technologies quickly, as well as working side by side with advanced robotics, is the most relevant future skill required for factory workers by 2025. This represents a significant change with respect to current skill sets. Organizations need to take immediate action by upskilling current employees and increasing the organization’s attractiveness to young and technology-minded prospects (see “Supply Chain Brief: How to Compete With Google and Apple for Supply Chain Talent”).

Synchronizing the speed of technology evolution with the ability to upskill people is the real challenge for companies. They need to identify, build and train their factory workers for different skill sets. The shift of manufacturing work from operational to control and orchestration as a result of an influx of robots will require a very different skill set.

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Coca-Cola European Partners is out in front on this issue. Faced with an average 30% of custom orders —  including custom pallets — the company invested in an unpackaging/repackaging line that takes standard packages from high-speed bottling lines and creates custom packages to fulfill specific orders.2 The line is highly automated with robots, which required brand new skill sets for workers. One of the major training initiatives is multiskilling, where people must be able to move seamlessly from one department to another, or from one production line to another to accommodate the new requirements of automation:

  • Automated repacking line has many robots.
  • High-speed bottling lines need quick changeovers.
  • One-off retail displays require manual activities.

As a result, Coca-Cola European Partners deploys a 3-1-3 principle for every shift — one person needs to be able to run three different pieces of equipment on each shift. For each shift, there must be at least three people able to run each piece of equipment. Learning and development programs are driven by 3-1-3 principles, including 10% classroom-based training, 20% with a mentor and 70% on the job. Employee engagement is highly emphasized.

Schneider Electric is on a multiyear journey to develop its existing manufacturing workforce to adopt new technologies. To do so, the company has taken several steps:

  • Employees in the company’s factories have access to a dedicated learning facility on site, where they can access learning content, including safety, technical, quality, onboarding and technology training.
  • Its approach has been to start small, building out pilot sites from which lessons are learned and approaches tweaked, before rolling out to the wider organization.
  • The transformation started with 11 pilot plants at the beginning of 2018 and scaled to 60 by the end of the year. Deployment to the rest of the organization will occur over 18 months.

It’s important for companies to prepare for the big cultural changes that smart factories will create globally and locally. The “not invented here” culture is slowly fading in factories. Frontline employees are more engaged than they were previously. New technologies and digital experiences will need new skills.

Given that people will remain at the center of the factory of the future, with different roles and skill sets than today, it is imperative that companies act now to prepare employees for a very near future:

  • Partner with HR to create a strategic plan for developing and acquiring new skills and competencies. Identify a list of specific technologies and behaviors that the workforce will need to harness and exhibit.
  • Build a comprehensive skills database that will facilitate capturing existing skills and competencies. Start by identifying a list of technologies that are part of your near-term digital business strategy.
  • Engage employees in the process from start to finish.

John Johnson,
Senior Writer,
Gartner Supply Chain
[email protected]



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