Is Your Workforce Ready for Industry 4.0?


Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution, refers to how computerized technologies are changing manufacturing. Some say it’s just the next chapter in the third industrial revolution, while others argue it’s a revolution of its own.

It doesn’t matter what we call the next wave of industrial innovation—it’s happening now. Machine learning is real, artificial intelligence is getting smarter, and more “things” are connected through the internet.

Companies need infrastructures that are ready for the fourth industrial revolution, and they need workforces that are Industry 4.0-ready. Before we review solutions for preparing your workforce for the fourth industrial revolution, we’ll discuss industrial revolutions one through three. 

What Is the 4th Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0?

The first three industrial revolutions brought us water and steam power, electricity, and automation.

1st industrial revolution: The first industrial revolution happened in the late 1700s to early 1800s when the first mechanical loom, water, and steam were used to weave textiles for manufacturing fabrics. Water and steam were introduced as sources of power for manufacturing.

2nd industrial revolution: The second big innovation that changed the way we make things happened in the late 1800s and early 1900s with the introduction of electricity in factories (and homes) and the adoption of assembly-line manufacturing.

3rd industrial revolution: In the 1960s, machine automation and computer programming led to the third industrial revolution.

4th industrial revolution: Also called Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution takes what was started in the 1960s with computer programming and automation and adds artificial intelligence, data, and machine learning. Why is this a revolution of its own? Because it has the potential to use data and machine learning to automate decision making, which could significantly reduce or even eliminate human involvement.

Industrial Revolution Timeline: Mid-1700s to 1830, 1st Industrial Revolution, Mostly in Britain; Mid-1800s to mid-1900s, 2nd industrial revolution, Europe, North America and Japan; 1960s to 2000s, 3rd industrial revolution, everwhere; Now, 4th industrial revolution, everywhere

In a whitepaper titled “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here—are you ready?” Deloitte surveyed more than 2,000 organizations asking how confident they are about harnessing the opportunities associated with Industry 4.0.

  • 86% said they’re doing everything they can to create a workforce that’s ready for Industry 4.0.
  • 14% said they’re not focused enough to create a workforce that’s ready for Industry 4.0.

What Is the Origin of the 4th Industrial Revolution?

This 4-minute video from “CNBC Explains” explains how Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, coined the term in his 2016 book titled The Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Terminology Associated With Industry 4.0

These are some common terms associated with the fourth industrial revolution.

Artificial intelligence (and machine learning) refers to the ability of computer systems to perform tasks that humans normally would perform. You can see an example of A.I. that has worked its way into our everyday lives with the voice-activated home assistants Alexa, Siri, and Google Home. And any time you see suggestions from Amazon, Netflix, or iTunes, that’s A.I.’s predictive technology at work. In industry, A.I. will be used for inventory, machine maintenance, and quality assurance, among other applications.

Biometrics refers to using physical traits to identify individuals, and it includes fingerprints, DNA, iris scans, and facial mapping. Biometrics are used to unlock smart devices with fingerprints and are being tested in airports for facial recognition.

The phrase cyber-physical systems refers to a central system comprising people, "things," and the software that connects people with things. For example, driverless cars are cyber-physical systems that use technology to autopilot vehicles that carry people from place to place. Similarly, smart technology that detects health care conditions, such as an irregular heartbeat through a smart watch, is a cyber-physical system.

Internet of Things (IoT) refers to devices that are connected to everyday objects through technology, and can be accessed and even controlled remotely. Examples are smart thermostats, WiFi-connected home appliances, smart watches, and drones.

A Forbes Insights survey of business executives found that 60% of enterprises are growing or changing their businesses because of IoT, while another 36% are considering it.

What Does Industry 4.0 Mean for Business?

Human resources: A.I. is already being used in the form of chatbots—when job seekers visit websites and are asked a series of questions in order to direct them to the right resources. A.I. and machine learning could help businesses with recruitment by predicting whether applicants might be a good fit for a team, based on their voices and facial expressions. It could also be used to predict when employees might be preparing to leave the company.

Cybercrime prevention: Most economic losses and cyber crimes are caused by human error, according to CIO Magazine. The article describes how one university is testing A.I. to monitor communications, to watch for suspicious activity. The more that these technologies are used, the better their predictions will become.

Customer service: A.I. and machine learning are collecting data so companies can create even more customized user experiences. IBM predicts that by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be handled without a human. Additionally, the Industry 4.0 revolution could help predict customer issues before they even happen.

Public relations: Machine learning in the form of social listening can be used to mine information from social channels to determine how to anticipate and meet customer expectations. The tool Blab is a social intelligence platform that listens to brand mentions in order to warn of potential reputation issues. This type of technology could enable companies to get ahead of trends in demand for products and services as well.

Customer payments: Mobile payments are already replacing wallets. Apple Pay, PayPal, Google Pay, and dozens of bank apps use biometrics to enable individuals to send each other money, pay for things in stores, and transfer funds from one bank to another.

Security and compliance: Banks already use biometrics and other industries are looking to biometric technology to detect users’ behaviors online to prevent cybertheft. TeleSign calls it Behavior ID, and it records users’ movements on a screen or with a mouse, to confirm customers’ identities. Companies may also use biometrics in place of keys, keycards, and passwords when employees access buildings, computer networks, and databases.

Central systems control: Cyber-physical systems are nothing new. It’s what municipalities use to control traffic, airlines and airports use to control aircraft, and it’s what large buildings use to monitor and control HVAC systems. But these central systems are changing and becoming even larger with the addition of robotics, Internet of Things-connected devices, and driverless cars.

Operations: Manufacturing companies are already using IoT technology to improve operations. Forbes gives an example of a Harley-Davidson manufacturing plant that uses software and sensors to monitor equipment and processes. The technology monitors the paint booth for heat and humidity and adjusts the temperature settings if needed.

Logistics: Companies are using GPS technology to find the most fuel-efficient routes and to monitor and maintain vehicles. For large companies like UPS, FedEx, and Uber, this could save hours of time and gallons of fuel.

Image of cars on a highway

Supply chain management: This goes hand in hand with logistics. Technology is being used with track-and-trace systems, which allow companies to respond to customer demands and reduce downtime of equipment. It also enables companies to track and monitor assets and inventories.

Telecommuting: With excellent connectivity of computers through secured networks, companies are able to accommodate remote workers and thrive in a virtual environment.

How Can Businesses Prepare and Adapt Their Workforces for Industry 4.0?

If you’re not preparing for Industry 4.0, you’re late. It’s here. It is time to educate and train your workforce.

Assess Your Needs

What are your company’s pain points? How do you intend to continue to grow your business? What do your customers complain about or ask for that you can’t deliver? What are your competitors doing that you’re not doing? Where have you not been able to grow, because you lack the technology, human talent, tools, or processes to do so?

Identify How Industry 4.0 Technology Could Meet Those Needs

How do artificial intelligence, machine learning, biometrics, cyber-physical systems, and the Internet of Things affect your business? How are your competitors using these Industry 4.0 “inventions,” and what are your customers asking for?

In your list of needs, include how these technologies could solve those problems. Don’t focus on the budget. You can prioritize needs and solutions later.

Identify People, Tools, Processes, and Changes

Solutions to problems typically fall into four categories:

  1. People: Hiring the right people and training them to do their best work
  2. Tools: Equipping your workforce with the best tools and training employees to use them
  3. Processes: Mapping out your processes, from the moment an idea is formed until it is delivered to a customer
  4. Environment: Identifying cultural or environmental changes that need to take place to accommodate technology, people, tools, and processes to improve your organization

Put People First

You need your teams to work with emerging technologies, so provide them the training they need so you both survive Industry 4.0. An article in TechHQ suggests we have work to do before we start to see benefits from the technological innovation in Industry 4.0. Now is the best time to transform your workforce, as you transform your physical plants, processes, and tools.

Create a Five-Year Plan to Meet Those Needs

Purdue University Global suggests a three-pronged approach to your long-term plan for adapting to Industry 4.0:

  • Attract
  • Develop
  • Retain

It will cost you less to retain and retrain existing employees than it will to recruit and train new staff.

As industries grow and become more sophisticated, their demand for skilled workers increases. Existing employees know your business well. Invest in them to maintain your company culture and history. As Industry Week notes, “Once these employees walk out the door, so does their knowledge, gleaned through years of hands-on experience—experience they can share with a new generation of workers.”

Recruit from local colleges and training institutions, and work with those institutions so they can meet the needs of your company.

Create a roadmap for the next five years to have an Industry 4.0 workforce, and work with an education partner to attract, develop, and retain the skilled workers you need.

Access a Workforce Development Solution

Purdue University Global offers workforce development solutions that can upskill employees, increase job satisfaction, and lower the cost of recruitment. Contact us today to learn about customizable solutions for your industry and organization.