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Report: Industry 4.0 will alter manufacturing jobs, not kill them

Peak Performance is sharing this original article posted on Smart Industry. Smart Industry is a print publication and online information resource, a webinar series, a podcast and a living library created to accelerate the ongoing digital transformation of manufacturing and related industries, as represented by the convergence of information and operational technologies and industrywide movements such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industrie 4.0 and big data analytics.

A human-based workforce will not be replaced by an automated one, according to a report recently released by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the Smart Factory Institute. The report found that the digitalization and technologies associated with Industry 4.0 will not only positively impact the design of manufacturing processes, but will ultimately increase productivity and efficiency for those entities making the transition. Additionally, the greatest projected workforce need is for human-centered technological skills.

The Volkswagen Academy Chattanooga hosted the second in a three-part event series this week to discuss the report findings and offer recommendations to manufacturers, a timely and relevant discussion as Tennessee recruited 130 projects in 2021 alone, resulting in more than 34,000 new job commitments from companies like Ford Motor Company, Thermo Fisher Scientific, NOVONIX and Smith & Wesson.

“At each phase of the constantly evolving US manufacturing sector, from Industry 1.0, which in the 18th century introduced the concept of mechanical production and steam power to, 100 years later, Industry 2.0, which saw the advent of mass production, and the information age encapsulated by Industry 3.0, the US has been on the cutting edge of global manufacturing advancements,” said Smart Factory Institute Executive Director Mary Beth Hudson. "Likewise, today the industry-changing impacts of Industry 4.0 will revolutionize manufacturing of not only the near-term, but the future.”

According to the report, Industry 4.0 advancements will require corresponding changes in the workforce, much of which will need to be reskilled and retrained to meet the demands and respond to the opportunities ahead.

The report also dispels the myth that all manufacturing jobs will eventually be automated. In fact, the need for humans with higher and more complex cognitive skills is expected to increase, and our workforce will rely even more heavily on “human” skills such as leadership, initiative-taking, and entrepreneurship.

“The remarkable transformation we are anticipating will require a blended approach of human, machine, and human-machine augmented work arrangements supported by advanced technologies,” noted UC Foundation Professor of Psychology at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga Dr. Chris Cunningham. “And institutions of higher learning are eager to prepare this highly skilled workforce and host the human-driven innovation needed to meet future demand.”

The report also found significant environmental benefits to this phase of advanced manufacturing, particularly with the integration of digital technology increasing equipment efficiencies and minimizing waste. “Smart factories will be more efficient and emit fewer greenhouse gases,” added Peak Performance President and CEO Denise Rice. “Industry 4.0 is the most sustainable era in the history of manufacturing.”

Key findings from the report include:

A human-based workforce will not be replaced by an automated one. Despite the increasing presence of machines and automation under Industry 4.0, the greatest projected workforce need increase, at an impressive 58%, is for human-centered technological skills such as coding and interacting with technology.

Manufacturing outperforms other Tennessee economic sectors. While the state has experienced a decrease in employment and number of firms in manufacturing over the last 30 years, the rates in this industry are significantly lower than for other major industries, such as mining and construction, making it a more stable sector of the economy.

Motor vehicle/bodies/parts manufacturing remains vital to the Tennessee economy. Transportation equipment manufacturing has had a growth spurt the last 20 years, particularly in the Southeast US and in Tennessee, where employment has increased nearly 17%.

Despite employment trends, output is expected to increase. Rising global demand for advanced manufacturing underscores the critical need for widespread workforce development efforts to prepare the existing and emerging workforce for Industry 4.0 technologies and processes.

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