New report highlights next-gen manufacturing roles in the U.S.

Research by UI LABS and ManpowerGroup identified 165 roles that'll shape the "factory of the future," and why there couldn't be a more exciting time to be in manufacturing than now.

The numbers are staggering: Over 3.4 million jobs will become available in manufacturing over the next decade, of which 2 million may go unfilled because of a skills gap, according to a Deloitte study.

The silver lining is that there are going to be opportunities in manufacturing -- for employers and workers alike -- to capitalize on the ongoing wave of digital transformation and consequent  "skills revolution" that are redefining manufacturing.

A recent report by UI LABS and ManpowerGroup attempted to highlight just that. The report, "The Digital Workforce Succession in Manufacturing," released in August, identified 165 data-centric and digital technology roles that will shape the next generation of manufacturing roles in the United States.

The 69-page report attempted to provide a comprehensive analysis of the key drivers accelerating digital manufacturing in the U.S., and shed light on the talent and skills required to power the factories of the future.

In addition to the 165 roles, the research identified 20 in-depth profiles -- such as digital twin architect, enterprise digital ethicist and manufacturing cybersecurity specialist -- and delved deeper into the education, experience, key responsibilities, and positioning of these roles within the larger business operations.

"If we look at what the digital future looks like for manufacturing, it's not just about the technology, but it's about the people," said Caralynn Nowinski Collens, CEO of UI LABS, a Chicago-based research and innovation institute focused on advancing digital transformation of manufacturing industries.

"And today, there's a lot of  people who don’t know what that future looks like, and we think this [research] will be an important body of work that'll help us begin to uncover what some of those new roles [will] look like and how our workforce can be ready for them," Nowinski Collens added. 

If we look at what the digital future looks like for manufacturing, it's not just about the technology, but it's about the people.
Caralynn Nowinski CollensCEO, UI LABS

The two years of research was funded by UI LABS' manufacturing hub, the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), using funds from the U.S. Department of Defense, in partnership with Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup's Right Management and Experis brands. 

"The goal here for ManpowerGroup and DMDII was to answer the question of what's next?" said Rebekah Kowalski, vice president of sales enablement and solution integration at Right Management.

"DMDII is focused on how to promote the adoption of new technology throughout manufacturing, and as they looked at the impact of technology and automation, we knew there would be impact to the workforce, thus the partnership."

Key drivers and digital manufacturing roles

The report, in addition to highlighting future manufacturing roles, also identified 14 key drivers responsible for shaping the digital manufacturing and design workforce and associated organizational changes.

A combination of factors are causing these changes, according to Gail Norris, director of customer technical learning services at Siemens, the German manufacturing conglomerate and one of the industry partners in the research.

"We look at the retirement of the boomers and the new generation coming in and then layer on top of that the digitalization effort that’s going [on]," Norris said.

Norris suggested that dealing with this transition from automation to digitization and robotics -- in what some call the "Digital twin" environment -- is what's forcing executives to explore ways to redeploy capital to incorporate the changes and ensure reskilling of the workforce to make it all work.

The big shifts, as highlighted in the report, are occurring in organizations that have decided to invest heavily in the "connected enterprise" or the "digital thread."

Speaking of the transformation drivers of the industry, Kowalski pointed out that there isn't a massive change when it comes to individual contributors or producers within the organization. However, there is significant change in what the report termed "pioneer" and "keystone" roles.

New roles for digital manufacturing and design

Here's a look at few next-gen manufacturing jobs:

1. Augmented reality systems manager

2. Lifecycle twin architect

3. Enterprise digital ethicist

4. Manufacturing cybersecurity strategist

5. Machine learning specialist

6. Collaborative robotics specialist

7. Digital thread engineer

8. Predictive maintenance specialist

9. Digital manufacturing biomimicry specialist

10. Embedded product prognostics engineer

"If you look at the numbers, 40% of the roles inside of those 165 manufacturing roles are pioneer and keystone roles," Kowalski said. "They are being added to drive the factory of the future [and] establish the primary digital capabilities. They are kind of that front line."

Lifecycle twin architect, manufacturing cybersecurity engineer and product lifecycle quality data specialist are some of the pioneer roles identified in the report.

Keystone roles, in contrast, are integration roles considered central to the workflow, process and direction, and that provide key resources and information. Augmented reality system manager and user experience designer are examples of keystone roles.

"If you look at the report…some of the [roles] are very much pushing the edge into the future," Kowalski said. "So for instance, in the report, you find a role called cognitive systems designer, definitely a leading edge role … and in some places [the roles] are here, but they are not very widely adopted."

Data, artificial intelligence and biomimicry are some of the persistent themes on the shop floor, the report stated.

Upskilling transition roles remains critical

However, DMDII and ManpowerGroup recognized that relying on incoming and new talent is not enough, and the research had to address skills for "transitional" roles that exist now but are rapidly evolving.

Currently, there are about 12.3 million manufacturing workers in the U.S. The research underscores the importance of mobilizing and upskilling traditional production workers into new manufacturing roles.

"Maintenance," Norris said, "Digital maintenance is probably going to be one of the biggest open skills gaps that we're going to have over the next five to 10 years."

The report identified over 60 such roles -- including technicians, specialists and analysts -- within the broader digital manufacturing and design roles taxonomy, in addition to the strategies for companies to strengthen them.

Kowalski said business leaders and manufacturing companies will have to treat talent as a "renewable resource" and focus on reskilling and upskilling of employees to ensure a sustainable pipeline of talent.

Over the past few years, several manufacturing companies have started to partner with technical schools and colleges in an effort to find customized solutions for their needs.

"That's what I think is going to change across the board," Norris said. "That kind of an industrial-educational partnership."

Nowinski Collens suggested different stakeholders -- employers, workers, policymakers and academics -- will have different takeaways from the report, but above all, the digital transformation will bring more opportunities for all of them.

"I think this report actually highlights the promise; the new opportunities that are going to be created because of technology," Nowinski Collens said. "Not opportunities that are going to go away because of technology." 

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