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Solving the Manufacturing Workforce Crisis of 2030

Sir James Dyson, British inventor, industrial designer and founder of the Dyson Company once said, “Manufacturing is more than just putting parts together. It’s coming up with ideas, testing principles and perfecting the engineering, as well as final assembly.” He’s absolutely right; manufacturing is more than just manual labor on a shop floor somewhere. Today’s manufacturing jobs require a new wave of skilled employees, but where are they?

It amazes me to think about how far manufacturing in the U.S. has come since the days of the industrial revolution and all the way up through the 1950’s. Fast forward to today and you’ll see a manufacturing industry that now relies on advances in technology to drive production and help fuel a global economy. In fact, my colleague Chet Namboodri in his blog ‘Manufacturing Predictions for 2015’ mentions that advancements and adoption of industrial robotics will rapidly advance across all manufacturing segments. However, the longstanding perception of manufacturing has been one of harsh work environments, something that is no longer the case in many manufacturing plants. This outdated perception must be laid to rest and changed amongst a new, younger generation of tech-savvy workers because it’s discouraging qualified candidates from pursuing lucrative careers in manufacturing and directly impacting production in the U.S., a trend that could cause a largely diminished manufacturing workforce by 2030.

The New Manufacturing Environment

Overall, the manufacturing industry is more productive, efficient, and poised for new technological advances made possible by the Internet of Things (IoT). In the 1950s, long, tedious business and production processes created a labor-intensive manufacturing industry. Employees worked in difficult and hazardous environments every day. But as technology advanced, so did manufacturing. A lot of manufacturing jobs are no longer traditional assembly line roles and an industry once driven by manual labor is now moving forward at a much faster pace thanks to machine automation, information technology, and increased plant floor communications. Operators now require advanced knowledge of computers, software, science, and math to program machines that control manufacturing processes.

The manufacturing industry in the U.S. faces a workforce crisis as a widening skills gap is created as many workers reach the age of retirement. If current trends continue, U.S. manufacturers will be unable to fill 2 million manufacturing jobs by 2025, due to a worsening shortage of required skills, according to a report by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte. Today, there are really good, well-paying positions that need to be filled across the manufacturing industry. Many students and new graduates fail to consider manufacturing on their quest to find a career path – something that must change. Manufacturers must begin engaging local high schools and trade schools to enhance pipelines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) trained graduates and developing strategies to attract qualified candidates as they enter the workforce.

Girls For IoT Innovation

Attracting the Next Generation of Manufacturers

The next generation of workers expects to always be connected. They have multiple mobile devices and interact with peers in new ways all the time. This inherent skillset can be a great asset to the manufacturing industry and with the advance of IoT, there will be a strong need for a STEM ready workforce. To generate interest in STEM and perhaps a career in manufacturing, educators must start early. Starting in elementary school, up through high school and college, career relevant math, science and computer instruction should be made available to a wider audience of students across age groups, demographics and geographies.

Not only are more skilled and tech-savvy workers needed put part of the manufacturing skills gap is the result of a lack of women in manufacturing. In fact, women have become an underutilized resource in STEM careers in general – something else that also must change. Pa. Women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but less than a quarter of manufacturing (STEM) jobs are held by women. How can manufacturers attract women to the industry and fill the current skills and gender gaps?

It starts with education. We need to educate young women about what a career in manufacturing is actually about, without continuing the negative perception of work environments. We can do this by supporting STEM education with programs that give kids practical hands-on experience. This is best accomplished when manufacturing industry leaders and organizations reach out to students and new grads, and encourage government leaders to invest in the right kind of training experiences in school curriculum.

IoT World Forum Young Women’s Innovation Grand Challenge

Cisco is helping to educate young women about STEM careers through the IoT World Forum Young Women’s Innovation Grand Challenge . The initiative is a global innovation challenge open to young women between the ages of 13-18. The aim of the challenge is to recognize, promote, and reward young innovators as they come up with new uses for Internet of Things technologies and is open now through May 18th, 2015. You can learn more about the IoT World Forum Young Women’s Innovation Grand Challenge here.

Whether next-generation workers seek a traditional college experience or vocational schooling, students must be exposed to the various options and training opportunities that are available in the manufacturing industry. Organizations should position themselves as go-to resources for prospects looking for jobs in manufacturing. They should offer internships and be able to connect future employees to employers. Hosting workshops, seminars, and conferences are also good forums to make connections.

Through these types of experiences, we can allow students and educational professionals to build passion for the manufacturing industry. In turn, the necessary skillsets will follow. The next-generation techniques and technologies on the plant floor will entice the new age of tech-savvy students. We need solutions now for the workforce of tomorrow and we are the advocates of manufacturing’s next generation workforce. Let me know your ideas in the comments below on how we can all make a difference on this issue.

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Drinking to the Future – Family Owned Beer Distributor Embraces IoE to Improve Operations

The warehouse today isn’t the same as 15 years ago. Cisco’s Internet of Everything (IoE), connecting people, processes, data and things, has revolutionized manufacturing, distributing and day-to-day operations. Del Papa Distributing, is a family-owned beer and beverage distributor based in Texas City, TX. The connected devices, sensors and nodes, and the data they generate, have helped transform our business giving us greater insight into our warehouses, buildings and delivery vehicles. Read More »

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Connected Manufacturing at CiscoLive Milan

I just got back from a fantastic week at Cisco Live in Milan.  We had a packed ‘Cisco Connected Manufacturing’ pavilion at the event, showcasing the latest in demonstrations and industrial solutions for both customers and partners.

CL Milan 2015The centerpiece of the demos was how manufacturers can leverage technology such as Cisco Connected Factory to address some of the business challenges they are facing including increased competitive pressures and changing global demand.  In fact, European manufacturers are turning to technology to give them a clear competitive advantage as they streamline their supply chain and factory operations as well as accelerate their new product introduction cycles.  We showcased various components of the Connected Factory, including rapid response and troubleshooting, Profinet integration, IoT Factory in a box and plant network analytics.

We received great feedback and energetic interest from booth visitors.  The Manufacturing demos were the highest rated at the show and were recognized multiple times in the various keynotes.   I asked my colleague Todd Edmunds, Enterprise Architect, to comment:

There was a lot of excitement around our working demonstration showing Siemens controls communicating via Profinet – including real-time Cisco IE2000 switch status inside the Siemens programming environment.  All across the same network with Rockwell Automation control systems, and anything else Ethernet.  Our key message that ‘we can support whatever you need on the network’ really resonated with booth visitors.”

Our various IoT solutions and products can really impact operational efficiencies and help manufacturers achieve significant outcomes such as reduction in unplanned downtime, for example.  It was great to see customers understand these benefits and I think that is due to the efforts of the tireless team that brought these demo scenarios to life.

We will be bringing many of these demos and products to the Cisco booth at the upcoming Hannover Messe (April 13 to 17th in Germany).  The theme of that show ‘Towards a Fully Networked Industrial Future’ dovetails nicely with our strengths and solutions.

Let me know if you were at CiscoLive Milan and drop me a comment.  Thanks for reading!

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Getting Value from Professional Organizations

As a Cisco team member, I’m convinced that the value of professional organizations cannot be understated. It’s understood that employees across various industries have a lot on their plate these days. Data centers, SDN’s or large solutions that help a manufacturing plant to become more “connected” are more than enough projects to keep us busy. However, employees often forget the value of professional organizations that are relevant within each industry. Whether an employee belongs to a professional organization or not, employees must realize the value that these organizations have: professional credibility, influence messaging on a ground level and increasing visibility for Cisco are some of the most important aspects that being involved with professional organizations can bring about.

Professional Credibility

Professional organizations are a place where I can network, learn and help deliver Cisco messaging as well as educate, engage and contact customers through community involvement.  When I first joined Cisco 15 years ago, I regularly attended and presented at monthly users group meetings, but over the years, Cisco’s participation at these meetings has waned and appears to be trending down. Often, I think we take for granted the value of professional organizations, but they provide a standard for professional credibility and give Cisco a broader visibility. As a member of an industry professional organization, specifically the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), I get tremendous value through education and networking.  I know my colleague Rick Geiger, who is on the Gridwise Alliance Board of Directors, would agree. At the local and state level, large impacts are possible as professional association members are able to drive professional credibility, influence agendas and position topics to society members who work or interact with our customer base.

For example, several months ago I received a monthly newsletter promoting a seminar on Software Defined Networking (SDN). One line stated “Software Defined Networking has got Cisco shaking in their boots because it just might completely transform what types of equipment are needed to build a network.  Do I have your attention now?”  Needless to say, I registered and attended – member discount to boot.

Education of members was the primary purpose of the seminar, meaning attendees expected the delivery of neutral, fair and technically accurate presentation on the future of software defined networks.  As I saw it, the presentation on SDN was focused on a Google approach to SDN architecture for data centers, and included a good amount of Cisco bashing. Nonetheless, the seminar provided an opportunity to influence the messaging at ground level and the topics discussed seemed to be informative and beneficial for all those in attendance.

Influence Messaging and Topics at Ground Level

Understanding the messaging and positioning of the local technical mavens presents a golden opportunity to counter and influence at street level. The bottom line, secure all forums to get Cisco’s messaging to our end users.  The IEEE meeting provided a good opportunity to secure a date and timeslot to present Cisco’s SDN and Application-Centric Infrastructure strategies as well as an opportunity to counter any negative perception the audience picked.  As Mike Robinson, Practice Architect states:

“As a member of UTC’s Smart Network Council, I get to collaborate with leading utilities in the United States who are dealing with the industry’s pressing issues. This is hugely valuable. It offers a direct path to decision makers, a seat at the table as they develop their strategies, and it builds trust as a colleague (as opposed to coming across just as a vendor). Also, through UTC I get the opportunity to speak at conventions, periodic forums, and regional meetings.”

Broader Visibility for Cisco

Cisco will also have an opportunity to drive thought leadership to influencers – Mavens and Sales specialists who will attend the upcoming session I secured. Account managers, engineers and other members of the sales team should make it a priority to get engaged with professional organizations, user groups and other community influencers.

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2015 Manufacturing Industry Predictions

What’s new and trending for the industry? Well, predictions for the upcoming year as a motif is certainly not new but is definitely trending, considering the deluge of pundits concentrating their well-informed thoughts about which industry happenings will emerge through hyperbole and into reality. Amongst go-to industry resources I find myself perusing is LNS Research, who has chosen to break down their Top Three 2015 predictions by industry trend/topic: Industrial IoT; Industrial Energy Management; Environmental Health and Safety; and Asset Performance Management.

Another annual favorite that I’ve blogged about in the past—including commentary on Cisco relevance—is IDC Manufacturing Insights, who this year took on a refreshing, new format entitled IDC Futurescape: Worldwide Manufacturing 2015 Predictions. The team of IDC manufacturing practice analysts quantify and qualify their ten most critical imperatives to be addressed by global manufacturers in 2015 and beyond—based on the coalescence of technology and line of business interests—including a few that are very pertinent to Cisco’s Internet of Everything (IoE) initiatives:

  • In 2015, customer centricity requires higher standards for customer service excellence, efficient innovation, and responsive manufacturing, which motivates 75% of manufacturers to invest in customer-facing technologies.
  • By 2016, 70% of global discrete manufacturers will offer connected products, driving increased software content and the need for systems engineering and a product innovation platform.
  • By 2018, 40% of Top 100 discrete manufacturers and 20% of Top 100 process manufacturers will provide Product-as-a-Service platforms.
  • In 2015, 65% of companies with more than 10 plants will enable the factory floor to make better decisions through investments in operational intelligence.

Before the analyst predictions pushed their way onto my laptop screen, I was asked by Cisco’s press relations team to put forward my top 3 for the industry. So on All Saints Day, before heading out on weeks of travel to China, India, and several of the United States outside my home residence, I produced three ideas that didn’t make it to our PR megaphone. As part of this blog, I’ve decided to share these three predictions, with some relevant observations from my Nov-Dec travels and customer interactions …

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