Manufacturing is at the forefront of the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will forever change the job market in the industry, but not in the ways that one might suspect. The “Industrial Revolution” is often the subject of previous centuries in history textbooks, but it describes cultural and technological movements that continue to shape our world.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as “Industry 4.0” and “4IR”, has already begun, with technology growing more and more integrated into humans’ everyday lives. Industry 4.0 includes new and emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, and genetic engineering.
The manufacturing industry is one of the largest in the United States and is anticipated to see extensive change resulting from Industry 4.0. New technologies are already helping the industry become more efficient, productive, and profitable, driving growth. While some fear that robots will take over the job market, the scene is actually quite optimistic in manufacturing.
The effects of Industry 4.0
Industry 4.0 has seen the rise of automation and the use of robotics for repetitive jobs that were previously done by humans. Many are suspicious that these changes, focused on efficiency over employment, will make the job market scarce for people will minimum education and skills, worsening inequity. However, it is important to remember what robotics can and can’t do.
It is anticipated that the jobs that consist of repetitive, physical tasks will be the primary category that is phased out or eliminated in coming years. Robots aren’t capable of deep knowledge or understanding emotion and communication on a human level. For the foreseeable future, jobs that require social skills or robust cognitive abilities will continue to be filled by humans and humans alone.
For years, the manufacturing industry has had millions of unfilled positions every year. If these jobs could be easily filled by a robot, they would have been already. The industry is in need of new employees. So, even if robotics and automation were to eliminate some manual labor positions, there is still significant opportunity in the industry. It will simply require a reorienting of manufacturing’s employment landscape.
The manufacturing skills gap
A big topic in the manufacturing job market is the skills gap. The jobs at the lowest rung of the industry, primarily manual labor positions, are filled. The jobs at the top rung of the industry, management as well as jobs requiring advanced education, are filled. The middle section, though, consisting of jobs requiring technical skills, remains largely unfilled. This is likely the explanation for the millions of unfilled positions industry-wide. It is also manufacturing’s future-proofing solution to Industry 4.0.
What many analysts are in agreement on is the rise of technical jobs alongside the decrease of manual labor jobs. This applies to all industries, manufacturing included. People will be needed to help design, build, program, and maintain the robots running assembly lines and factories. Skilled technicians will be in high demand as the world moves to mass-produce new technologies, such as renewable energy methods like solar and wind power. With advancements in nanotechnology, the microelectronics industry will only continue to grow.
The demand for technical jobs requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree will be at the center of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The manufacturing skills gap is the room-to-grow for the industry, allowing it to increase automation without laying off employees. The industry will have to shift its focus to training former manual labor employees to take on these new technical positions. Some employees are already using second-shift positions to get more on-the-job learning opportunities. Making technical education affordable and accessible to more of the population will be critical for not only ensuring equity but also filling the labor shortage in manufacturing.
This education shift is already beginning. For example, coding is becoming a more accessible career field because fewer employers are requiring a four-year degree. Instead, people can use online education tools or coding boot camps, which cost a fraction of the price of a college degree and take only a few months to complete. Similar quick and affordable education solutions will be needed to transition manual labor jobs to technical jobs, which benefits individuals as well as organizations. These new technical jobs are anticipated to be more engaging and fulfilling than repetitive labor positions.
The new entry level
The manufacturing industry is very desirable for employees, with an average salary of over $88,000 a year and activity that reached a 37-year high in March 2021. It is common knowledge and practice that jobs requiring more technical knowledge or education will be rewarded with higher pay. So, one highly beneficial result of Industry 4.0 could be higher wages for entry-level positions in manufacturing, since the new entry-level will include basic technical jobs.
With the industry growing so much in recent years, meeting this demand for higher salaries won’t be a problem, either. The increase in pay alongside rewarding educational opportunities will make manufacturing even more desirable, attracting more talented, enthusiastic workers and fueling a productivity boom that could increase revenue even further.
Manufacturing is a booming industry, and Industry 4.0 is only going to generate more growth and better opportunities. Manufacturing jobs may be on the path to becoming more technical, but employees will benefit from accessible technical education and higher pay, while organizations create a more productive and rewarding workforce.
The use of technology in the industry will continue to increase, but rather than deleting jobs, it will create entirely new ones that manufacturing companies are already searching for. As the industry looks to the future, there has never been a better time to pursue a career in manufacturing!
About the Author:
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine showing how technology is innovating different industries.