Intel finds serious skills gap faces manufacturers in digital era

Manufacturing technologists told Intel that a technical skills gap creates a drag on their digital initiatives. (Pixabay)

Intel researchers uncovered a serious gap in technical skills facing most manufacturers in western countries, according to an 18-month study of 404 factory technologists and related workers.

The findings reported Thursday showed that 36% of respondents cited a “technical skills gap” that prevents them from benefiting from their company’s investments in new technologies such as Industrial IoT or artificial intelligence. The majority of respondents work at industrial jobs in North America.

The respondents said they need training in skills beyond basics of programming to gain a deep understanding of data collection, analytics and real-time feedback to factory machines and systems. 

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Intel described the top future skills needed for digital transformation in manufacturing as a deep understanding of modern programming and software engineering techniques; digital dexterity, or the ability to leverage existing and emerging technologies for practical business outcomes; data science; connectivity; and cybersecurity.

The research also ranked the top 10 planned investments in technologies over the next two to three years at the companies where the respondents worked. Artificial intelligence topped the list with 51% of respondents. Predictive or big data analytics ranked next with 44%, followed by smart machinery or equipment (35%), robotics (31%), smart upgrades to existing equipment (29%), 3D printing (25%), smart building (24%), smart asset tracking or monitoring (23%), virtual or augmented reality (19%) and blockchain (18%).

Intel noted that two out of three companies that pilot digital manufacturing solutions fail to move them into large-scale rollouts.

In addition to the skills gap, manufacturers face an expansion in data for AI and IoT that is being generated at a faster pace and in multiple formats. Of all the respondents, 18% said they were concerned with handling data growth in amount and velocity, while 27% were worried about data sensitivity with concerns over data and IP privacy, ownership and management. Also, 22% said they worried about security threats. And, 23% cited concerns with lack of interoperability between protocols, components and systems.

The data explosion results from several factors including that the newest sensors are more cost efficient than five years ago. Plus, there more analytics programs are available from third party vendors.

Manufacturers need to address the skills gap by putting a focus on life-long learning where skills are continuously updated, although that’s often inconsistent with how companies fund and organize their training programs, one Intel researcher said.  “A three-or five-day offsite is not going to work anymore,” said Dr. Irene Petrick, senior director of industrial innovation at Intel’s IoT group. She developed the research with Dr. Faith McCreary, a principle engineer at Intel. 

Workers need skills updates that are used and applied frequently to their jobs, Petrick said. Training modules might be provided through webinars and videos. “Workers have to have the opportunity to use those skills and figure out what that translates into,” she said.

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