Addressing the Skills Challenge of Industry 4.0

Technology is only part of the Industry 4.0 story. The technological innovation is also driving and exposing a widening skills gap. How can organisations respond?

A lot has been said about the jobs of the future – how soft skills will become more important as intelligent machines take on logical and repetitive work. According to CBRE, by 2025, fifty percent of the jobs of 2015 will no longer exist.

Industry 4.0 technologies and approaches are a big part of the changing nature of work; requiring new skillsets of individuals and across organisations.

Skills to Create Competitive Advantage

“Industry 4.0 isn’t just about buying a brand-new widget, it’s about how you exploit that and create a competitive advantage from it that’s important,” explains Jim Davison, Network Director at the EEF.

The first learning hurdle is understanding where the opportunities are, Davison says. As a result, the EEF is doing a lot of work with its members to educate around how to align the available Industry 4.0 technologies with the strategic direction of the business.

“For most organisations, some of these initiatives will require retraining, some recruiting, some a mix of the two,” Davison admits. Like many organisations involved with training for industry, to meet the challenge, EEF is adapting its own training capabilities to help its members gain the skills of the future.

“The traditional mechanical and electrical engineering skills are no longer enough on their own,” says Davison. “You need those skills and more. We need to prepare people for the whole area around the connected factory and the connected supply chain.”

The Digital Engineer

As the digital and the real worlds are brought closer together, so the disciplines of IT and Engineering become more intertwined – giving rise to the notion of “the Digital Engineer”.

Last month, we saw how Universities are adapting their Engineering course structures to take account of new and emerging skills requirements to ensure the next generation of students graduate as digital engineers. But this still leaves a skills shortfall in the short term.

Neil Lewin, Learning and Development Consultant at industrial control and automation company Festo, makes the point, “Sixty-five percent of the 2030 workforce has already left education. How do we upskill these people?”

It’s a challenge Festo is seeking to address through both its existing learning infrastructure and a new Festo Didactic initiative. As with EEF, the Festo approach begins with educating users about the potential of Industry 4.0 technologies and exploring how they can support organisational objectives.

Are you Industry 4.0 ready?
To support its one-day and two-day exploratory workshops, Festo has a quick quiz on its website to help you assess whether you are Industry 4.0 ready.


This can then be supplemented with the opportunity to get hands-on practical experience with key Industry 4.0 technologies and explore what is possible. Through Festo Didactic and its modular Cyber Physical Factory systems, CP Factory, organisations can gain a vision for the future that will help to get people onboard with the Industry 4.0 journey. This is important, Lewin points out, because, “No initiative can succeed without buy-in.”

The Factories of the Future

While leaders in the connected factory space, such as Festo and Siemens, have the capital budgets and in-house capabilities to design and build their own Industry 4.0 lines and factories to explore and exploit the new technologies, this isn’t possible for most organisations.

Davison says the challenge to help the other companies in the supply chain who don’t have the same budgets or skills is one with which EEF is currently grappling. It’s a challenge to which Neil Lewin at Festo is also sensitively attuned.

Festo has hosted many organisations at its Scharnhausen Technology Plant, a working factory which doubles as a showcase for Industry 4.0 solutions.

“At our Scharnhausen Technology Plant, new operators get familiar with the CP learning system before moving next door onto the production line. It runs side by side with the real factory so operators can hop off the line for a session on the training equipment,” explains Lewin. “With Festo’s modular CP Factory systems, we are aiming to give smaller organisations a similar opportunity.”

To achieve this, Festo is working with Universities across the UK to establish CP Factory installations that can showcase technologies more locally. Interested organisations can also purchase individual CPF components to use and apply knowledge on a small scale before the technologies appear in the factory.

Through this, Festo is seeking to solve the problem of “where organisations can go to train for the factories of the future”.

Mind the Gap

Lewin makes the point that, even before Industry 4.0, engineering in the UK was dealing with a huge skills shortage.

“In the UK, we were already lagging behind in terms of mechanical and electrical engineering working as one,” Lewin says, “Now, Industry 4.0 is now adding a new set of skillsets to the mix. The biggest gap is the need for engineers with a good understanding of IT.”

It’s a view with which Davison concurs. He argues that, here in the UK, the Industry 4.0 skills gap is overlaid by two further skills challenges. First, a historical underinvestment in the necessary industrial skills. Second, the potential for Brexit to disrupt the supply of skilled and semi-skilled workers.

“We have a demographic challenge to contend with,” Davison says, “in the mid 80s and early 90s, as an industry, we stopped investing. You see people retiring or in their early fifties coming up to retirement, then there’s a big gap before you start seeing younger faces again. This gap clearly illustrates the investment – or lack of it – government and industry has made over the decades. We now face the demographic challenge of how to replace the people who are retiring.”

“Equally there is the issue of skills with Brexit. It isn’t only high-skilled people we need; we need medium-skilled people too – particularly if you overlay that with the ambition of developing domestic skills. The lead-time for that is five to ten years, what are we going to do as a country in the interim?”

Huge Opportunities in the Longer Term

While expressing concern about the need to look for creative ways to solve the skills gap problem in the short term, Davison stresses the longer-term opportunities. The need to replace a retiring skills base is an opportunity as well as a threat.
“We don’t want to replace like with like,” he tells us, “Yes, you need to understand how to make things, how to engineer things, but we also need that digital understanding. And this digital piece has made the profession more interesting to people who might otherwise not have considered it.”

It’s an opportunity that Neil Lewin at Festo experiences on a monthly basis through Festo’s active schools’ engagement programme.

“Industry 4.0 has the power to make a career in engineering appeal to the younger generation,” Lewin says. “It has knitted the world they know with the practical world of engineering. When we go out into the schools, the students and the teachers are enthusiastic about it.”

Lewin acknowledges he’s battling a lot of misconceptions about the shopfloor being a “dirty” environment, a generation of teachers who have had little exposure to the world of engineering themselves, and schools in which cuts have meant good metal and wood-working workshops were ripped out years ago.

However, the focus of industry and university leaders, as well as initiatives such as the Catapult centres, is helping to attract more homegrown talent into engineering.
Lewin says, “Industry 4.0 is already attracting young talent and helping engineering change its image.”

Inspiring the Next Generation of Engineers

Festo is sponsoring the Mechatronics stream at the WorldSkills UK show. The event runs at Birmingham’s NEC from 15th to 17th November 2018. It is the nation’s largest skills and careers event, and the Mechatronics stream will feature a full suite of Festo Didactic’s Industry 4.0 Cyber Physical Factory systems.

As well as inspiring a new generation of workers, the show celebrates the best of UK talent. WorldSkills UK will be identifying skill-eligible students and apprentices to join its training programme and compete at WorldSkills, the world’s largest international skills competition, known as the “Skills Olympics”, in 2021.



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