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Bridging the workplace skills gap

The skills gap in industries such as process control and automation is a growing concern, with millions of skilled jobs remaining unfilled. Employers are struggling to find qualified candidates to meet their needs. Rockwell Automation proposes several solutions to alleviate this ongoing crisis. These include implementing labour-saving automation to reduce manual tasks and utilising advanced digitalisation, including artificial intelligence (AI), to help less-experienced workers succeed in technically complex roles.

“Automation has been transforming the nature of work since the 1860s, and it continues to accelerate,” Kyle Crum, director of advanced technology at Rockwell Automation, says. “When spreadsheets were introduced in the 1970s, there were fears that accounting would become obsolete. Instead, while bookkeeping tasks decreased, new jobs were created. Similarly, manual parts-checking on production lines is evolving into roles where workers calibrate machines and perform other value-added tasks, rather than repetitive work. Work isn’t disappearing; it’s evolving.”

Tessa Myers, senior vice president of intelligent devices at Rockwell Automation, highlighted that every company she interacts with is concerned about the skilled workforce shortage. “Automation technology can empower workforces, so our goal is to develop and attract talent to fill these gaps,” Myers explains. “We’re also investing in the communities where we and our customers operate, and supporting students in STEM programs, such as For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics.”

Myers and Crum shared these insights during the “Why the Manufacturing Workforce is More Important Than Ever” press conference at Automation Fair 2023 in Boston.

Retraining and People Skills are Key

Crum emphasised that beyond recruiting new talent, many companies need to retrain their existing workforce to equip them with the skills required for the future of manufacturing. “For several years, Rockwell Automation has partnered with the Manpower Group in the Academy of Advanced Manufacturing (AAM) program to train and retrain US military veterans for careers in smart manufacturing,” Crum explains. “This 12-week course has successfully placed all its graduates with companies nationwide.”

Rockwell Automation also runs its own workforce development and enablement program, which helps employees acquire necessary skills and has proven effective in retaining staff. “There’s a misconception that future skills will be purely technical, but people skills are crucial for coordinating various competencies,” Myers adds. “Many manufacturing problems are complex and multi-disciplinary, requiring soft skills such as emotional intelligence and teamwork to align teams and solve these issues.”

Crum noted that Rockwell Automation plans to adopt micro-certification and re-education initiatives similar to those used in IT sectors. “These are akin to nursing programs that offer stackable credentials,” he adds.

Myers adds that AI can also enhance workforce performance and effectiveness. “For instance, AI can assist people in learning our FactoryTalk Design Studio software-as-a-service (SaaS) design tool or apply FactoryTalk Guardian AI software for better predictive maintenance of assets,” she concludes.

By focusing on both technological solutions and human skill development, Rockwell Automation aims to address the skills gap and prepare the workforce for the future of manufacturing.

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