If the conversations during and after the IMTS 2018 (International Manufacturing Trade Show) held in Chicago in September are any indication, digitalization in manufacturing should be a foregone conclusion. How and when it precisely takes place may still need to be decided, but discussion over whether it will happen is mute.

There will continue to be debates about the impact of the IoT (Internet of Things), IoE (Internet of Everything), cobots, autonomous robots, AI (Artificial Intelligence), Generative Design and how other digital assets will affect manufacturing moving forward, but there is no question digital change is coming.

ABI Research had seven analysts from its industrial research group in Chicago study this and then even compiled multiple white papers addressing the subjects. It set us to thinking that perhaps one of the factors slowing manufacturing’s foray into the digital era is there are simply too many factors involved. Rather than make an error in choosing a pathway to digitalization, many prefer to “wait and see”, hoping time will serve to narrow things down. This, after all, is understandable in an industry where change takes a major financial, talent and time commitment.

Better Defining the Skills We Should Value

It had occurred to us that for those who see their employees as their greatest asset, this change to digital should start with them. Perhaps, we are looking for worker’s skilled in areas that are becoming outdated rather than in what lies ahead of us. What we need is perhaps a new definition of what is considered a skilled worker in manufacturing.

To put it another way, maybe there are too many of us “waiting” for the next big thing or for technology to sort itself out before making a move to digital. But digital, in some form, is a decision that has already been decided. The exact vehicle or vehicles may yet to be determined but we already know what, and who will power them. They will be digital and they will be driven by our staff.

By redefining what we should consider a “skilled worker” everyone in manufacturing can begin their entry into digital manufacturing. We should be looking for workers who are digitally savvy, skilled in virtualization, who have an interest in AI and who understand blockchain technology. When we begin rebuilding our teams with those who have an education in the digital realm we are moving forward and preparing ourselves for what lies ahead, even if we don’t know EXACTLY what that is. In fact, these new skilled workers will likely play an important roll in helping us decide the best paths ahead.

Starting the Search for These New Skills at Home

There may be people in our companies and on our shop floor who already have some of these skills and knowledge. There may be others who have a keen interest and just need an incentive to develop these skills. With the impending move to digital, these are not efforts that will be wasted. They may take a little while to pay dividends but the more workers we have that have skills in technology the better position we will be in.

We may not even know what they know or don’t know about the subjects discussed at the 2018 IMTS.

This is worth considering in all areas of our organizations. On the shop floor, in the office, accounting, sales, logistics, and marketing. When we redefine what a skilled worker is, we begin shaping our companies to be prepared to meet digital challenges that are sure to lie ahead.