What is the operator skillset required for Industry 4.0?

Mila Budeva
Mila Budeva
Jul 16, 2018

We are amidst “the next phase in the digitization of the manufacturing sector” also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0. Most definitions focus on the technological disruptors behind it such as:

- the unprecedented rise in data volumes, computational and analytical power and connectivity;

- the emergence of new human-machine interfaces;

- the rise of cyber-physical systems enabling the transfer of digital instructions to the physical world with more accuracy and speed than ever1.


The so-called Industrial Digital Technologies (IDTs), driving the wave of digital transformation (from IoT connected devices to 3D printers), present significant opportunities for the manufacturing sector. Those include increased productivity, quality and safety; reduced operational costs, minimized environmental impact; a more efficient and sustainable supply chain. To put those benefits in numbers, the digital technologies behind Industry 4.0 have the potential to add $14.2 trillion to the world economy over the next 15 years2.


The evolving role of human workers

However, IDTs are one side of the coin. Their implementation on the shop floor alone would not be sufficient to reap the benefits of digital-first manufacturing. As witnessed in the previous industrial revolutions, technological advancements come hand in hand with the re-organisation of the workforce, introducing a new way of work, transforming human workers’ role and responsibilities.


Industry 4.0 brings about the need for a connected industrial workforce – one where humans and machines actively collaborate and communicate; where machines’ operational speed and precision and their capability to capture and communicate data in real-time is combined with humans’ analytical, problem-solving and decision-making skills.


In fact, nearly half of manufacturers surveyed in a recent PwC study place the responsibility for optimally using advanced manufacturing technologies on production workers3. An up-skilled, digitally adept frontline workforce is not just a nice-to-have.


As Rene Wiedemann and Christian von der Gruen observe in The new rules of engagement on the factory floor, supporting today’s industrial workforce in developing the skills to transition from a human- to human/machine-centric manufacturing is crucial to the success of digital transformation initiatives.


The study conducted by Accenture shows that 70 percent of manufacturing executives cite a lack of skilled workers as their biggest concern4. A workforce that is not equipped with the skills to operate in an IDT-enabled environment could hinder its potential. Those concerns are echoed in the Made Smarter review, citing the lack of skills as the greatest barrier to IDT adoption. In the UK industrial sector alone, two million people will need to be upskilled to respond to the industry’s growing demand for the Industry 4.0 skillset5.


What is the Industry 4.0 skillset?

As tasks become less manual, the emphasis is shifting towards human decision-making and problem solving on the shop floor. Therefore, the responsibilities of human workers are evolving from developing narrow expertise in a specific aspect of the production process towards a cross-functional role, based on confident interaction with an array of digital technologies. To help unleash IDTs potential, human operators will have to develop broad process understanding and digital savviness, enabling them to analyse and act on real-time data and swiftly troubleshoot problems across processes.


The greater the technological advancements on the shop floor, the greater the challenge of upskilling workers for them will become hence the importance of responding swiftly to the requirements of the digital age. There is no quick fix to the challenge of upskilling the industrial workforce. The task at hand of preparing workers for a new digitally-driven way of work requires the combined effort of governmental and educational institutions and manufacturers.


As part of this global, joint effort, what are the specific steps that manufacturers can take today that will help their frontline workforce to adapt to the evolving environment? How can manufacturers leverage one of the most promising benefits of digital transformation – the possibility to share and act on real-time information – to enhance lean techniques and workers’ capacity for problem-solving and driving continuous improvement on the shop floor? Find out in your free copy of Zaptic's latest e-book.



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Image credit: Photo by Bradley Wentzel on Unsplash