The ‘factory of the future’ will require massive investments in skills and data

I contributed — as a subcontractor to Lundberg Media — to a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services about the deployment of technology and data to front-line workers in the manufacturing sector (“The Factory of the Future: Manufacturers Invest in Data and Skills to Achieve Efficiency Goals,” free PDF to download).

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In a recent survey, 78% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement “To be successful in the future, our organization must connect and empower its [front-line] workers with technology and information.” In the manufacturing sector, those workers are what one IT leader called “the deskless people.” They include the salespeople who deal directly with the customer; the employees operating machinery, making products, and keeping the processes running on the factory floor; and technicians out in the field servicing the manufacturer’s equipment at the customer site.

But the barriers to implementing this vision of automation — whether that’s mobile apps or augmented reality, for example — are many: the cost of deploying digital technologies to a broader employee base; a lack of effective change management and adoption processes; and a lack of workforce skills. Current workers need retraining. And they need secure, integrated, and trustworthy data to make decisions.

Pundits say the future of manufacturing involves more robots, sensors and mixed reality. But that will only happen if there’s a massive, comprehensive investment in technology, data and skills.


Top 10 job shortages, 2007

The top 10 jobs that employers have difficulty filling
(global, 2007):

  1. Sales representatives
  2. Skilled manual trades (e.g., electricians, carpenters, cabinet makers, masons/bricklayers, plumbers, welders)
  3. Technicians (production/operations, engineering, maintenance)
  4. Engineers
  5. Accounting/finance staff
  6. Laborers
  7. Production operators
  8. Drivers
  9. Management/executives
  10. Machinists/machine operators

Source: Survey of 36,629 employers in 27 countries, by Manpower Inc., March 2007
Note: This is a global, aggregated list. There are significant regional and country-specific differences. For example, in the U.S., teachers are the second hardest job to fill. The full 2007 Manpower Annual Talent Shortage Survey is available here.