Technological advancements and the future of labor in manufacturing

Advanced technology like artificial intelligence can actually support human employment.

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Virtually everyone has seen movies like The Terminator and I Robot that position technological advancements as antagonistic to human labour.

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These depictions portray the increased use of technology as negative – with some going as far as to say technological advancements are the predicating factor to humans in the workforce becoming obsolete.

Despite what Hollywood leads you to believe, innovative tools utilizing artificial intelligence and augmented reality can work in tandem with humans and aren’t the antithesis to human labour.

Manufacturing companies are constantly looking to develop tools that can be used to add value and increase efficiency to their business. According to Adastra’s survey of IT decision makers across the United States and Canada, 84 per cent of respondents say their organization is taking advantage of automation technologies.

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Artificial intelligence is the latest tool gaining traction in the industry, as it can be used to reduce the time it takes to find and address processing problems, predict future maintenance issues and lead to more accurate quality assessment of products.

If automation is implemented correctly it will boost productivity, employee engagement and consumer value. So with augmented and virtual reality usage on the rise, how can the manufacturing industry leverage this shift to their benefit?


Why now?

Younger generations are spending more time with technology and their ability to adapt to new technology is greater than those born in the early 2000s. Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization, reported in 2017 that 98 per cent of homes with children have a tablet or smartphone in the home.

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Over the past decade, the entertainment and gaming industry has also seen a surge in consumers asking for augmented and virtual reality. For the first time in 2020, pokemongo – an augmented reality mobile game – surpassed $1 billion in revenue and went on to make $1.21 billion in 2021. The usage of augmented reality in pokemongo was a lynchpin to their success.

What does this all mean? Well, younger generations – the workforce of the future – are not only displaying an interest in innovative technologies, but are raised in environments that are dependent upon technology. It is incredibly easier for children to pick up how to use new tech.

As younger generations are displaying a clear interest and reliance on technology, industry players have a unique opportunity to capitalize off this interest, introduce innovative technologies within the manufacturing sector and get ahead of their competitors.

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How can technology be used?

When introducing new equipment and technology into the sector, a significant discussion is held around training. How complex is it to learn new technology? Do workers need to be professionally-trained to operate equipment or can they be trained on the job?

60 per cent of IT experienced professionals believe their executive teams are too old to understand the benefits of data in Adastra’s industry survey. Similarly, 74 per cent of young professionals, aged between 18-24, also agree that their executive teams are too old to understand the benefits of data.

Post-pandemic, training costs across all sectors have increased dramatically. Between 2020 and 2021, total US spending on employee training grew from $83.5 billion to $92.3 billion.

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Manufacturing companies are searching for ways to increase the efficiency of their training programs while balancing the rising costs of implementing new methods and technologies.

AR is one area that can support both human labor and the industry’s desire to reduce costs and increase efficiency.

Microsoft released HoloLens, an AR headset that allows the user to interact with both the physical and virtual worlds simultaneously. The device delivers self-guided instructions and on-the-job guidance using the Hololens 365 Guide, which has led to enhanced training efficacy, increased task efficiency of onsite workers and reduced the need – and associated costs – for specialized experts on site.

There are demonstrated benefits to increasing the usage of artificial intelligence and augmented reality tools within the industry, and a willingness from younger generations to engage, so why aren’t companies jumping at creating such innovative tools?

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Future of manufacturing

Despite the future of the manufacturing sector being fraught with opportunity, a significant barrier remains: recruiting and retaining workers. Fewer and fewer students are choosing to pursue education and training in sectors like manufacturing. 74 per cent of IT decision makers believe the data and analytics industry is facing a shortage of talent, according to Adastra’s 2023 outlook findings.

The demand for data engineers and scientists has outpaced the supply of available talent since roughly 2016. Since then, there has been a persistent shortage of talent entering the industry.

a 2019 report from Indeed reported that there was a 29 per cent increase in demand for data scientists’ year over year and a 344 per cent increase since 2013. However, the amount of job seekers skilled enough to secure a data science job grew only by 14 per cent each year.

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going further, Statistics Canada reports that between 2013-2018 there has only been a 16.4 per cent increase in student enrollments in STEM programs. This clearly suggests that there is a significant supply and demand gap in the industry and the workforce is noticing.

While recent technological advancements are spurring opportunities in the manufacturing sector, a lack of effort given towards attracting younger generations may stall the advancement of the industry as a whole. Furthermore, the demands of retraining existing STEM professionals to keep up with the rapidly evolving data and analytics vertical similarly adds to the pressures on the labor shortage.

In maintaining a competitive edge against competitors, the manufacturing sector must find innovative ways to get younger generations excited about the industry to capitalize on this period of growth. Those who don’t will find their business becoming obsolete in the digital age.

This story was provided by Adastra Corp for commercial purposes.

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