The Future of Manufacturing: Re-skill for Growth

Inventory - too much (Nov 2014)In a recent article on Forbes, the author shares thoughts coming out of the 2019 World Economic Forum where the question of how technology is replacing workers was faced head on. The bottom line? We need to re-skill for growth.

The excellent report, Towards a Reskilling Revolution: A Future of Jobs for All, highlights the double-edged sword of what’s ahead. Yes, there will be fewer traditional manufacturing jobs created as technological advancements replace some parts of the workforce, but there’s also a potential upside — new jobs. I say ‘potential’ because there’s a bit of a catch to these new jobs: they will require some skill, either new or different from what a worker may already possess. This is where the re-skilling comes into play.

For some jobs it will be clear where they can transition but for others it may be a complete departure from a current skillset. And this post isn’t meant to paint the re-skilling of the future as all roses and unicorns — it will be extremely disruptive to individuals’ lives as well as to a major sector of the world economy. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report states that ‘By 2030, as many as 375 million workers—or roughly 14 percent of the global workforce—may need to switch occupational categories as digitization, automation, and advances in artificial intelligence disrupt the world of work.’  (The McKinsey report is worth a read.)

Before you get too downtrodden, consider this New Yorker article that reminds us all that humans have a little something extra and that we would all do well to “realize that humanity is an edge not a handicap.”

There’s still time to plan for the changes ahead but it should start soon. This isn’t just the work of businesses, either; governments and schools (at all levels of education) should be thinking seriously about how that 14% of the global workforce will be supported (and supportive) in whatever the new normal ends up looking like. The two studies linked in this blog post have some good future mapping that looks at exactly where and how re-skilled workers could fit into different parts of the economy. This isn’t to speak of workers as cogs, of course, but rather think of them as the diverse humans that they are and how the changing economy can offer as many opportunities as challenges if we approach it wisely.

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