A platform for job creation?

The effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the industrial and manufacturing sectors


When the steam engine was invented in 1698, some people assumed the world would soon eradicate manual labour, but the opposite happened and the steam engine created a vast majority of jobs, such as machine operators, engineers and maintenance workers

The 18th century Industrial Revolution was a huge catalyst for the industrial manufacturing industry, but it’s no secret that previous innovation led to the reduction of human labour to produce product. There has been much debate in terms of artificial intelligence (AI) and the new innovation era leading to the loss of jobs without actually looking at it as a platform for creating jobs. What does Industry 4.0 mean for the industrial and manufacturing sectors? The focus and critical question here is will jobs be created by Industry 4.0 and if so, how will jobs be created?

It is an indisputable fact that previous industrial revolutions facilitated the age of mass production and introduced digital capabilities to billions of people. But Industry 4.0, also referred to as the move to “smart manufacturing”, is a new and distinct revolution, which is fundamentally different. This system offers a fully integrated, collaborative manufacturing supply network, that responds in real time to meet customers changing demands and conditions.

Its characteristics such as cyber and cloud manufacturing, cybersecurity, big data analytics are inevitably going to improve the industrial and manufacturing sectors. Industry 4.0 is going to bridge the gap through connectivity, turning the human-operated machine into an intelligent entity. ‘Human operated’ refers to automated systems that will be able to monitor and record faults or discrepancies, therefore, improving workers’ skills because human employees will be monitoring those machines. Industry 4.0 will alter the way we live, work, relate and the way we are governed, but does this impact have to be looked at as a ticking time bomb for human employment within the industrial and manufacturing sectors when these technologies will have to be run and managed by skilled people?

This brings us to how Industry 4.0 will impact industry and manufacturing positively by aiding more employment opportunities. The above mentioned characteristics are going to transform the modes of production by improving productivity, which will be attributed to the engaging relationships between the elements of production processes.

When there is a complete flow of communication during all stages of the production chain, production becomes flexible and largely customised. Improving production efficiency will heighten competition, therefore, creating space for new opportunities on the world market.

In addition, when profits become higher because of smart manufacturing, companies will have more capital to finance improvements and expansions, which will be rewarding to humans because this would require them to hire more workers.

A good example is the Toyota case. Toyota’s General Manager, John Peterson, said, “Because we have increased our productivity in terms of yields and throughput, we have been able to bring in a fourth transmission where previously, we were only able to build three products at any given time.”

He further explained how workers with expertise in fields, such as electronics, engineering and IT are needed, thus doubling his team in the past year. On a global scale, according to estimates from Forrester Research, close to 15 million new jobs will be created in the United States because of Industry 4.0. Interestingly, some jobs that humans formerly performed, that are now being performed by robots, tend to be the dangerous, mundane ones that humans did not necessarily like in the first place.

A proactive system ensures employees and systems can anticipate and act before a challenge arises, rather than simply reacting to it after it occurs, because prevention is cheaper than cure in industry and manufacturing.

Enabling more informed decisions will help these sectors to predict and adjust to the changes in the facility or network, which will better position them in the competitive marketplace. The stiffer the competition, the more drastic the increase in jobs because, previously, few or no elements of IT were incorporated across industry, but this will change immensely.

Furthermore, monitoring the shifting consumer demands and creating tailored responses will increase demand and when demand is high, previously displaced employees will be taken and retrained in order to take on more challenging tasks within the smart factory environment. Demand will create a sharing economy and these new technologies will lead to the indirect creation of jobs in the industries that can supply support and service smart manufacturing.

Global competition has led to manufacturing companies increasing their productivity, becoming more competitive than ever before and fostering the need to innovate in order to offer higher-quality products. We will see more technological change in the next 10 to 20 years than we have ever seen before. McKinsey & Company estimates that the economic impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on factories by 2025 will be US$1.2-trillion to US$3.7-trillion per year.

New technologies present us with extraordinary opportunities—the most in-demand occupations did not exist five or 10 years ago. We will benefit from more employment opportunities, better income and a refined standard of living. GE Reports predicts that by 2030, the Internet of Things will add more to the world economy than every major country. These new technologies will increase safety levels for human workers and engineers by developing smart wearables to help protect employees in high-risk industries like industry and manufacturing. NASA created new space suits for astronauts that are lighter, more flexible and the helmet and visor are incorporated into the suit instead of being detachable. These suits not only keep the astronauts alive but some of the other interesting features make them more comfortable than the earlier versions.

This should serve as a constant reminder that Industry 4.0 is driven by humans using creativity to solve problems and produce improvements.

Instead of fearing for our jobs, we should be focused on expanding our skill sets. While it may seem as though new technology is destroying manual jobs, it is, in fact, creating the demand for high-skilled jobs. The Internet of Things will create more industrial-level jobs than it will take away because it will transform entire companies, not just IT experts.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will force us to reevaluate our culture and it will force our mindset to adapt to this change. Companies and organisations need to start investing in the necessary technology and education in order to adopt and adapt to smart manufacturing practices. The job requirements will gradually change and become more tailored to suit existing technology, it is expected that more than 65% of children entering primary school today will work in completely different jobs that currently don’t exist. Repetitive and predictable jobs that can be replicated through machine learning and algorithms are under the biggest threat, but otherwise, robots will still require skilled workers who can operate and manage these robotic solutions.

Jobs might be redefined, not eradicated, so it’s important to start upskilling. Stakeholders in the sector cannot afford to ignore the fact that current job skill sets in the industrial and manufacturing sectors will need to upgrade in order to avoid facing a complete overhaul. Your outlook on Industry 4.0 will affect your ability to remain effective and competitive in the global market. 

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