When it comes to Industry 4.0, the digital transformation of the manufacturing sector, there’s a serious skills gap that most Western industrial production training programs and government investment initiatives fail to address.

A new study from Intel, “Accelerate Industrial” found that today’s leaders need to create tomorrow’s future-ready workforce. This requires the collaboration of universities, government and industry – including initiatives that focus on worker training for the transforming manufacturing sector.

A recent Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute study suggests that industries are entering a period of acute long-term labor shortages, with a shortfall in manufacturing expected to be 2,4-million job openings unfilled by 2028, resulting in a $2,5-trillion negative impact on the US economy. Germany and Japan, two other developed economies, are expected to fare even worse in terms of this projected labor shortage.

With the increasing proliferation of data, connectivity and processing power at the edge, the industrial internet of things is becoming more accessible.

However, successful adoption remains out of reach for many: two of three companies piloting digital manufacturing solutions fail to move into large-scale rollout.

The study uncovered the top five challenges cited by respondents that have the potential to derail investments in smart solutions in the future:

  • 36% cite “technical skill gaps” that prevent them from benefiting from their investment.
  • 27% cite “data sensitivity” from increasing concerns over data and IP privacy, ownership and management.
  • 23% say they lack interoperability between protocols, components, products and systems.
  • 22% cite security threats, both in terms of current and emerging vulnerabilities in the factory.
  • 18% reference handling data growth in amount and velocity, as well as sense-making.

“Accelerate Industrial” points to the rising importance of the digital skills required to navigate and succeed in this new landscape.

The research found that, while there is a big appetite for digital transformation – 83% of companies plan to make investments in smart factory technologies, the most important skills and characteristics cited for that transformation are not ones that are typically emphasised by most industry job training programs or relevant policymakers.

Future skills cited by respondents point to the need to go beyond the basics of programming to embrace a deep understanding of digital tools, from data collection to analytics and real-time feedback directly to the operating environment.

The top five future skills required to support digital transformation in manufacturing are:

  • “Deep understanding” of modern programming or software engineering techniques;
  • “Digital dexterity,” or the ability to leverage existing and emerging technologies for practical business outcomes;
  • Data science;
  • Connectivity; and
  • Cybersecurity.