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The people problem in an Industrial Internet of Things era, and how to fix it

Article-The people problem in an Industrial Internet of Things era, and how to fix it

Binary world by cooldesign
Whether you embrace it or dread it, there is no escaping the Internet of Things. It will be, if it is not already, part of your personal and professional life.

Whether you embrace it or dread it, there is no escaping the Internet of Things (IoT). It will be, if it is not already, part of your personal and professional life. As Jacob Morgan notes in “A Simple Explanation of the Internet of Things,” published in Forbes, “Simply put, [IoT] is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other).” There are an awful lot of things with on/off switches, and by 2020, more than 26 billion of them will be connected, according to some analysts; others put the number much higher. That will create a bundle of new challenges in the workplace; recognizing them and finding solutions for the current and future workforce is what animates Brian Fortney, Global Business Manager at Rockwell Automation within the Workforces Development and Training Services department. 

“No industry produces more data than the manufacturing sector, and all of that information can be applied to making smarter business decisions,” Fortney told PlasticsToday. The Entire IoT universe promises close to $15 trillion of value, and the industrial subsector will be in the $5 trillion range, according to Fortney. “Companies need to participate to capture that value,” he adds, noting that many organizations currently are ill equipped to take that leap. “There is $65 billion worth of obsolete industrial automation in use right now. It’s only going to get more expensive to repair and replace it. Companies have to commit to modernizing,” stresses Fortney, and in the process, they will need to migrate their workforce with them into the modern world.

Brian Fortney, Rockwell Automation.

“We always talk about migrating systems—sofware and hardware—but what we’re really doing is migrating people,” says Fortney. “Just ask any engineer—migrations rarely go smoothly—and migrating people is no different,” explains Fortney. “We have to create a pathway for folks in operations to control their own destiny and achieve success.” That will require building a workforce that speaks a common language; as a result, the market is moving to demand job-level IT certifications, and even career band level certifications, such as Cisco CCNA Certified Network Associate Industrial, according to Fortney. Indeed, Rockwell Automation and Cisco have developed a portfolio of training programs designed to facilitate the convergence of the industrial plant floor with the information technology infrastructure. “Market needs drive adoption,” says Fortney, “and you will see plant floor teams attain these certifications so that they can control their own destinies.”

The skills gap will take on new contours in this environment. On the one hand, the next generation will have a leg up on its predecessors because technology is part of its DNA. “The generation stepping into these jobs is technologically fluid—they hop from a Mac to a PC to an iPhone to Android. As operations evolve in the next 10 to 20 years, they will be much more ready to adapt,” says Fortney. But that’s only part of the equation—industry must meet them halfway and convince young people that a career in manufacturing is desirable. “The perception of manufacturing bears no resemblance to reality,” says Fortney, and a correction is in order.

Brian Fortney will be among the speakers at a conference session devoted to the smart manufacturing revolution at the co-located MD&M East and PLASTEC East events in New York on June 14 to 16, 2016. His presentation is titled, “No worker left behind: Optimal integration of Industrial IoT with the human workforce.” Use the promo code NY16PT on the event website to receive free expo admission and a 20% discount on conference passes.

He recounts an experience he had at a vocational high school in Georgia. “It has an amazing manufacturing program with a student body of about 800. I asked what their most popular program was. It was graphic design, which had about 200 students. You know how many of them were in the manufacturing program? About 75 students. And I told them that I’ve never met a graphic designer, not many at least, who make more than $35,000 a year,” says Fortney. Your first year in manufacturing with limited overtime will get you in the high 40K range, he adds. “That’s a significant difference, but the students are like, yeah, but graphic design is sexy, it’s cool.”

The problem is the perception of manufacturing, which is decades removed from reality. “I often say the greatest enemy of manufacturing is not foreign competition, it’s the high school counselor. And, frankly, if I’m addressing a group of plant managers or operations managers, I tell them they share in the blame. You have to be talking about your facilities, and the lifestyle that a career in manufacturing can provide,” says Fortney.

The image of manufacturing, even in an Industrial Internet of Things universe, is stuck in Rosie the Riveter mode. “But the high-tech manufacturing facilities that I’ve visited are straight out of 'Transformers,' ” says Fortney. That’s got to look pretty sexy to the connected generation. We just need to show them. 

Image: CoolDesign/

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