Pressing issues about readying the Australian workforce for Industry 4.0 were top of the agenda at the recent Industrial Internet Summit 2017 organised by Quest Events in Sydney.  In the following article, courtesy of Manufacturers’ Monthly, the issues confronting industry are explored.

The advent of Industry 4.0 and its offspring, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is set to create great demands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills. However, there is a disconnect between the skills in demand and what careers people pursue. In a panel called “The Innovation Race”, the discussion on how far behind Australia was in adoption of new technologies took centre stage.

The consensus among the panellists was that the Australian public remains at best, unconvinced, and at worst, ambivalent, about learning STEM skills and entering the manufacturing sector. Then there are ongoing problems with branding of manufacturing related degrees and the gender imbalance in manufacturing. To some degree, the mentality has its origins back at high school. 

Changes in the skill profile of manufacturing

According to current research, there are going to be large skill shortages in Australian manufacturing. Mike Grogan, director of the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, said there will be a need for an influx of up to an estimated 100,000 people
across different industries. In addition, he said there would be changes at the lower skill end of manufacturing.

“We are also going to see the exit of about 50,000 jobs at the bottom, and as you’d expect, they are blue collar. It all depends on whether we are going to be looking at our competitive advantage in design and management, R&D, logistics, marketing and the capacity to add value to products. There is going to be a large change in the skill profile of manufacturing,” Grogan said.

Grogan added that Australia is going to have up to 40,000 “high end” jobs in the managerial bracket. He noted that the lead-time on workers gaining high-end skills is about eight years.

Australia must spend more time on educating people in STEM and manufacturing now or else when demand for skilled labour increases, the country won’t be able to ‘exploit opportunities’, according to Grogan.

How skills will be used in the 4.0 Age

David Chuter, CEO of innovative manufacturing CRC, said that no one can know for sure which skills will be in demand. However, according to Chuter, employees won’t be learning new skills in factories. An example would be car dealership employees being certified to create replacement parts using a 3D printer, instead of having to order the part from overseas.

“If you go to car dealerships and today you buy a car and your gearbox breaks down, you may wait two months to get a spare part from Europe. Now, imagine a world where the car dealership where they are making a replacement part for you and it’s all approved and certified so suddenly now you could have thousands of employees or potentially hundreds of thousands of employees making parts to repair cars,” Chuter said.

Ian Burnett, Dean of UTS school of engineering & IT, believes the 40,000 ‘high end’ jobs are going to be for people with a broad set of skills. For example, mechanical engineers are going to need to know about augmented reality which they could be using to maintain their equipment. The manufacturing sector and universities need to be aware of changes to industry’s skill requirements so they can guide children to study the right courses and degrees.

Burnett also said the semantics around degrees and certifications significantly affects what careers parents want for their children.

“Primary school parents would not be using the ‘word’ manufacturing as something they would like their children to go into. There are only two or three universities that have ‘manufacturing’ in the title of their degrees,” Burnett said.

“If you put manufacturing in the degree name, you can guarantee that the quality of your students drops. I cannot remember the exact figure but my previous university has a degree with manufacturing in the title and I know the ATARs they can get for that degree are some ten points lower than for mechanical engineering. Currently, manufacturing is not viewed as a ‘future’ career path for children and this is a problem.”

“What we call the ‘Industrial Revolution’ and what we call the ‘future of manufacturing in Australia’ will have real impact in terms of developing the skills we need particularly if it’s a 5-15 year gestation period.” 

Cultural changes needed to get skilled labour into manufacturing jobs.

Manufacturing has several cultural problems. Firstly, the government does not “do enough” to help provide skilled labour when they clearly need it and secondly, there is the issue of gender disparity in the sector, Grogan said.

Grogan also added that the industry expects skilled labour to be available when they need them and the government can’t justify the employment of more graduates without explaining the need to do so. “If manufacturers have opportunities open and they do not receive enough interest from local skilled labour, they will request that the jobs be put on the Skilled Occupations List.”

Grogan also said the Australian manufacturing sector has a terrible gender balance. He said that the mentioned upcoming 40,000 jobs would be very attractive in terms of gender because they would likely be “family –friendly”.

Getting the schools involved earlier on

The end of automotive manufacturing creates many opportunities for skill development in other developing areas.

“If you look at how Industry 4.0 is being described, there are nine industry technologies or toolkits from augmented reality to big data to simulation. There is probably only two of those, big data and the industrial internet itself, that haven’t been around for the last 15-20 years,” Chuter said.

“If you go and look at the automotive industry and 3D printing 15 years ago, I was using virtual reality with glasses that are slow and clunky. We have been using RFID, and also manufacturing simulation.

Chuter describes this as “a once in a lifetime opportunity without poaching”. He encourages manufacturers to go out and observe automotive supply bases because these places have skilled people who have used technologies for up to 15 years that has now evolved into Industry 4.0. “We have bodies of knowledge where this capability exists. We just need to make sure that it doesn’t get diluted and disseminated once vehicle manufacturing stops.”

He also noted that students have access to Industry 4.0 skills at primary school level like simple coding. “What I hope is that these students get the problem-solving skills and interest in technology from these things because at the end of the day the ability for human-machine interaction is where the key to success is going to lie.”

Burnett added that there are a lot of international students who come to Australia because they still believe it is an opportunity for them.

“They are getting the message about STEM that domestic students are not. Local students have to get a feel for logically solving problems but not all of them need to learn code. They need to learn how to look at the problem and implement a solution. The solution may be implemented overseas Australia will miss out on the insight and the opportunity,” Burnett said.

Manufacturers’ Monthly also proudly organises the Endeavour Awards that is held at the National Manufacturers’ Week this coming 11 May 2017. For more information, visit: http://endeavourawards.com.au.