ISA Interchange

Welcome to the official blog of the International Society of Automation (ISA).

This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the automation community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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The Future of the Manufacturing Labor Force

Automation is an integral aspect of manufacturing, and has been since the Industrial Revolution. Today, automation and robotic technology continue to advance at a rapid pace, and manufacturing is in the midst of a great transformation of sorts. Known in some circles as the “fourth industrial revolution” or the “rise of the machine age,” this industry-wide transformation will require skilled human professionals at the helm.

Rather than relying solely on manual labor, the manufacturing skill force has shifted considerably in recent years. Human manual labor is an indispensable part of manufacturing, but today it coexists alongside careers in computer technologies, engineering, robotics, and data analysis. While the manufacturing labor force of the future should have at least a fundamental understanding of manufacturing processes, the workforce must also be educated in computer technologies.

Let’s explore how manufacturing businesses can invest in the future, why interest in manufacturing careers must be cultivated from a young age, and the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in the workforce of today and tomorrow.

The Past and Future of the Manufacturing Workforce

The path towards a prosperous future for manufacturing begins in the past. The word “manufacturing” has conjured up the mental image of manual labor for a majority of human history, which remains into the 21st century—just perceived in a different light. Today, human labor is often correlated with luxury. High-end fashion brands, coffee shops, and breweries are of note in this regard, commanding top dollar for hand-crafted products.

Within the manufacturing industry at large, an altered perception of human labor is far from the only change that’s come about in recent years. The modern STEM labor force operates far differently than it did in the past—with scientists, engineers, and skilled technical workers replacing manual laborers at a rapid pace.

Large-scale automation requires a much different approach than manual forms of manufacturing, and employee roles are shifting as a result. The modern manufacturing industry requires skilled quality control managers, computer programmers, and information technology (IT) professionals who can communicate with robots and similar advanced tech.

Tech-Based Education and Careers in Manufacturing 

However, manufacturing isn’t exactly the most popular career choice among young people. As of 2018, a negligible 6% of young people aged 16 to 23 were considering a career in manufacturing. Many of those surveyed held the false belief that manufacturing doesn’t require or help foster advanced technology skills.

Unfortunately, the newest members of the workforce aren’t the only guilty party: Parents and other concerned adults may be woefully out of touch when it comes to careers in manufacturing. For young people to get a leg up in manufacturing, parents should invest in STEM education as soon as they’re able. In addition, the benefits of early STEM-focused education are vast. For starters, STEM students get plenty of hands-on experience and are encouraged to think outside the box when looking for solutions. STEM learning has also been shown to improve memory retention and accelerate language development, in part by an increased vocabulary.

Employers throughout the manufacturing industry can do their part as well and invest in employee training as appropriate. Automated machines cannot be operated without human intervention, and those working with modern tech should be updated on all relevant advancements and system requirements. Whether it’s a coding bootcamp, an introduction to programming, or a refresher on safely using advanced machines, continued training can help employees build agility, while also keeping them happy and productive.

Key Takeaways

From skilled trade schools to courses in computer technology and artificial intelligence (AI), the future of manufacturing hinges on education. As automation continues to dominate and improve the manufacturing industry, companies must ensure that they can handle any software bugs or other technological snafus that may come up. Without resourceful human workers who possess the soft skills necessary for growth, the automation industry is likely to stall.

Katie Brenneman
Katie Brenneman
Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, education, and fitness-related content. When she isn't writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.

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