As many companies move to reshore their operations, automation is often viewed as a means of helping them to cope with both domestic labor shortages and higher costs without losing their competitive edge. However, while the integration of automated technologies has eliminated some need for unskilled labor, it has created an increased need for skilled labor, placing many manufacturers in a difficult conundrum. In fact, according to a study conducted by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, while 4.6 million manufacturing jobs are forecast to be created over the next decade, as many as 2.4 million of those positions are likely to remain unfilled due to the continuing skills gap.
Often, the next generation of skilled workers manufacturers are seeking must possess a unique mixture of traditionally blue- and white-collar skillsets—a challenging ask due to a lack of available training materials and the collapse in enthusiasm for manufacturing as a viable career option over the past several decades. That said, remedying this situation isn’t merely a task for manufacturers themselves. Doing so is also in the best interest of technology suppliers, as adoption of their products often hinges on whether or not end-users have access to a skilled workforce capable of executing automation projects and operating in a highly automated environment.
“Automation is imperative to a competitive U.S. manufacturing base. In order to meet our demand in automation expansion, we will need skilled candidates to fill high-demand, and technically driven positions like robot operator, robot technician, and integrated systems specialist,” said Heidi Koedamn, engineering learning organization manager at Dana Incorporated, a supplier of drivetrain and electrified propulsion systems for the automotive sector.
To address these challenges, robotics supplier Fanuc and industrial automation and information technology provider Rockwell Automation have recently formed a coalition to create apprenticeship programs designed to upskill current and future workers for jobs in advanced manufacturing, robotics, and automation. The coalition also includes APT, a Fanuc and Rockwell automation systems integrator, as well as Nocti Business Solutions, which provides independent assessments of occupational standards using recognized International Organization for Standardization (ISO) process validation methods. In addition, more than 40 manufacturing companies have signed on to participate by adopting the newly created apprenticeship programs.
The apprenticeship programs offered provide three different tiers of credentials. The first two tiers offer certification for robotics operators and programmable logic controller (PLC) operators at basic and advanced levels, while the third tier provides training to become an integration specialist. According to Paul Aiello, director of education at Fanuc America, most workers should be able to complete their apprenticeships in less than one year. Moreover, the program is aimed both at preparing future workers for careers in advanced manufacturing and improving the skills of current workers so that they can effectively implement new automation systems and processes into their workflows.
“As industry adopts new technologies, it is vital to be able to quickly adapt with a well-trained workforce,” said Michael Cook, global academic organization director at Rockwell Automation. “Having the most current standards will drive manufacturing competitiveness and simultaneously grow new talent to these new occupations, upskill current employees, and allow companies to be more agile in their workforce planning.”