We know automation and AI (artificial intelligence) has been sped up due to the COVID-19 pandemic and we are on the precipice of moving toward greater sustainability in industries such as manufacturing. Last week, I made the case the future of manufacturing is sustainable. Today, I am going to argue innovation needs to start with empowering our workforce.

Analysis from McKinsey suggests between 39-58% of the worldwide work activities in operationally intensive sectors—such as manufacturing, transportation, and retail, and operations-aligned occupations, such as maintenance, claim processing, and warehouse order picking—could be automated using currently demonstrated technologies. That is 1.3 times the automation potential of activities in other sectors.

As I suggest, in order to enable this, we need to get our workers on board—and McKinsey’s research supports this effort. Executives in its survey are broadly united in the view that their organizations have a significant role to play in the skill transition, with roughly two-thirds of respondents believing corporations should take the lead in the development of the new skills required for the digital era, and 80% saying at least half of all new roles should be filled by reskilling existing workers.

Here is a case in point. In the past several years, a group of manufacturers have made strides toward scaling Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies in the plant. The World Economic Forum and McKinsey recognize these factories as part of its Global Lighthouse Network and found something that is a key takeaway—while such companies make extensive use of smart technologies in their operations, they pay equal attention to their business processes, their management systems, and their people.

This echo’s a point Walid Ali, artificial intelligence, manufacturing, Microsoft, made on The Peggy Smedley Show last week. He says the tie between digital transformation and success requires empowering and reskilling the workforce. “The workforce has been challenged with what has happened with COVID-19 that now we are facing a demand for efficiency increase, a demand for better productivity, and a demand for also scaling the workforce.”

Microsoft also made a big move with its acquisition of The Marsden Group. The companies say this acquisition will further enhance Microsoft’s ability to create new customer value through experimentation and deep industry solutions based on Microsoft cloud, edge, and AI products. One of the big objectives here is to build agile operations and supply chains to address disruptive market forces and consumer demands.

Of course, all this starts with the worker. Ali goes as far as to say the workforce is a foundational pillar in any digital transformation. Perhaps this is where we need to start if we want to make any real progress with digital transformation. As I always say, people, process, and technology. For more manufacturers to be successful, we need the resourcefulness to comprehend what has occurred in our factories by having the aptitude of knowing the past, present, and future to make the best strategic moves in our journey for digital transformation to be sustainable, disruptive, and competitive. While this all seems obvious on the surface, the journey can be a lot more cumbersome without having the right strategic support to aid people, process, and technology. Let’s make sure we have this right.

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