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Skills gap solutions, straight from those on the front lines

Brett Brune
By Brett Brune Editor in Chief, Smart Manufacturing

With the September issue, Smart Manufacturing introduces Collective Intelligence, a new initiative under which we gather experts in one room to go deep on one important topic. We focused this first roundtable on the intractable problem of the workforce skills gap.

The five experts we gathered at the Smart Manufacturing Experience in Boston all lead companies, putting them on the front lines.

IMMY CEO Doug Magyari pointed out that augmented reality and virtual reality have given birth to the “remote expert”—an experienced hand, perhaps a retired employee, who from across the country or the globe can in real time troubleshoot a down machine “like he’s right in the shop.” “This remote expert can do real-time annotation. He can draw over that guy’s line of sight and say, ‘Do you see this?’ ‘Make this adjustment’ or ‘swap that out’.”

The remote expert will be “a really big leveraging tool,” he said.

It is also time to “sensor up” and follow the example GE, FANUC and PTC have set by embracing the Industrial Internet of Things, Magyari said. (This comment echoed our March special report on sensors.)

To address the growing compliation of continuous training for existing employees, Elisha Tropper, CEO of Cambridge Security Seals, suggested discovering new technologies, such as automation and robotics, “that can replace the skills workers lack.”

“Every time you switch a technology, or even switch a vendor within a technology, it requires additional training or new training,” he said. “The instant obsolescence of a process people have been following for a while kicks in. Then you have to lean heavily on the vendors to train your existing employees. Some vendors are great at it, but some vendors don’t know the first thing about how to do it.”

Tropper acknowledged that apprenticeship programs can help with the brain drain around craft-like areas, such as toolmaking and machine maintenance. But, he added, apprenticeship programs are “very time consuming and success isn’t guaranteed.”

He and others at the roundtable emphasized the importance of keeping ties with productive employees after they leave your employment.

When people do retire, Tropper said, “you have to try and maintain the relationships” so that you can call them when you have a problem.

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