AI-Related Needs Rapidly Altering the Manufacturing Workforce

New research from the MAPI Foundation shows that the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) into the manufacturing value chain is significantly changing the nature of that sector’s workforce. But rather than robots taking human jobs, new hybrid roles are emerging where humans enable machines and AI augments human capabilities.

The authors of How AI Will Transform Manufacturing and the Workforce of the Future, Robert Atkinson and Stephen Ezell of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), say that within the next five years manufacturers will see significant growth in AI through machine vision, intelligent products, machine learning, and cobots, both within factories and throughout the supply chain. They project this will lead to a myriad of new types of AI-related jobs in manufacturing.

According to a survey of U.S.-based manufacturers, currently almost three-fourths of them have not yet introduced new types of AI-related jobs into their companies. In addition, only 20% have comprehensively re-evaluated job roles, titles, levels, and pay scales, in recognition of the need to attract employees with AI skills. However, Atkinson and Ezell note this is changing quickly.

The study emphasizes that more than 40% of manufacturers have already created “data scientists/data quality analysts” in their workforces, and 35% more expect to do so within the next five years. A sizable proportion of manufacturers are also creating “machine learning engineers or specialists” (33% today, 70% within five years), “collaborative robotics specialists” (29% today, 27% within five years), and “data-quality analysts” and “AI solutions programmers/software designers” (26% today, 40% within five years).

“Manufacturing is already facing a worker shortage, and advanced technologies create additional technical and workforce challenges to find and retain talent with the necessary digital skills,” observed Stephen Gold, president of the MAPI Foundation. “Companies that acquire and cultivate new digital-related skills will have a distinct advantage as AI reshapes the industry, including identifying new roles for AI-focused jobs such as leading AI strategy and supervising implementations.”

The report shares six recommendations for business leaders as they integrate new AI-related strategies and technologies:

  1. Create teams to drive digital transformation in the enterprise. 
  2. Define an “AI governing coalition” for AI transformation. 
  3. Evaluate AI and workforce transformation readiness.
  4. Set measurable objectives for digital and AI transformation. 
  5. Redefine digital and physical product innovation processes. 
  6. Overinvest in communication for change management. 

“Most manufacturing companies are only beginning to realize the opportunities possible with AI,” said Ezell. “Businesses that want to remain on the cutting edge of manufacturing innovation need to implement policies that support and enable the use of the technology throughout their organizations.”