As technological innovation gains momentum, digital skills gaps may widen. Eventually, if not addressed, digital skills gaps could stunt growth and slow innovation. Intel recently released a study that delves into manufacturing, Industry 4.0, and hurdles to future-proofing a business, including skills gaps or skills shortages.

Skills that are critical today may be different than those that are critical in the future. For instance, basic programming and software engineering, communication skills, traditional IT skills, and the ability to innovate (brainstorm, etc.) are valuable today, but, according to Intel, future critical skills will be more along the lines of deep programming and software engineering, digital dexterity, data science, connectivity, and cybersecurity.

Intel’s “Accelerate Industrial” study included interviews with more than 400 manufacturers and ecosystem technologists that support them. The research uncovered a skills gap that Intel says too many training programs and government investment initiatives are currently failing to address. In 2018, Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute released a report on the skills gap and the future of work. The research report predicted the skills gap in manufacturing would lead to 2.4 million unfilled positions between 2018 and 2028. It’s not just open jobs either; it’s a lack of skilled workers to step into those roles that make the situation even more difficult for industrial companies.

The Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute report projected the problem will get worse in the next several years, as many participating companies said they expect it to be three times as difficult to fill highly skilled positions at their companies in the next three years. Such roles include digital talent, skilled production, and operational managers. Economically, the study suggests by 2028, the talent shortage/skills gap in manufacturing could put more than $450 billion at risk if qualified workers don’ step up to fill these jobs.

While the IIoT (industrial Internet of Things) is becoming more accessible than ever before, the Accelerate Industrial study says two of three companies piloting digital manufacturing solutions fail to move into large-scale rollout. One in every three respondents (36%) cites “technical skill gaps” that prevent them from benefiting from their investment as a top challenge. A quarter of respondents (27%) cite “data sensitivity” from increasing concerns over data and IP privacy, ownership, and management as a challenge, while 23% say a lack of interoperability between protocols, components, products, and systems is an issue. Another 22% cite security threats as a top challenge, and 18% say scalability in terms of handling data growth and making sense of this data is a hurdle.

To bridge the technical skills gap that represents the top-rated perceived hurdle in the next several years, Intel suggests companies create programs that support life-long learning among the existing workforce, offer instruction in digital tools and skills that combine lecture and hands-on opportunities to practice, emphasize problem assessment and solving before solution implementation to prompt discussion and learning, and balance hiring external experts and internal staffing to grow the company’s digital dexterity. These suggestions are solid and could go a long way in helping manufacturers and other industrial companies address the pressing skills gap—a challenge most predict will get worse before it gets better.

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