Because Industry 4.0 is in the process of revolutionizing manufacturing and engineering all over the world, no conversation about its significance is complete without taking a look at the talent required to make it all work for us.
In the next five to 10 years, companies will have to adapt to or adopt Industry 4.0 technologies and principles if they want to survive and compete. Like it or not, that means investing in the right people and skillsets, today, to ensure a favorable position well into the future. The following rundown of four major skill groups is far from comprehensive, but it should serve as a solid blueprint for companies that want to create new positions and invest in their technology portfolio.
1. Networking, IT and IoT
Our list begins with an impossibly broad category: networking. We can expect Industry 4.0 to dramatically impact the number of networking professionals at work in manufacturing and other critical industries. A big reason for the increase? The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
It would take some time to list each of the established and still-emerging networking-related disciplines across world industry and commerce. Nevertheless, here's a highly truncated list:
Smart factories and connected fabrication and material handling equipment
Remote sensors for freight condition monitoring and inspection
Automated infrastructure and smart metering for utility management and energy-saving efforts
Intelligent analysis of soil and environmental conditions for agriculture
Tracking systems for vehicles and other assets
Monitoring for employee health and safety in dangerous and remote conditions
The list goes on. What's clear is that every industry under the sun will need many more networking and IoT specialists than they currently employ. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the U.S. to add more than 24,000 jobs in network administration by 2026 and another 10,500 in network architecture. These are just two of the many disciplines required for in this consequential and exciting field.
2. Data Architects and Scientists
Data science has enjoyed the title of "best job in America" for the last three years. It's not hard to see why, when you consider the sheer amount of data the human race generates these days. It's hard to pin down a convincing number unless you tie it to population growth. When you do that, some estimates indicate that by 2020, data systems will routinely pull in about 1.7 megabytes of data each day for every human being on earth.
By 2025, nearly 30 percent of that data will be of the "real-time" variety, which refers to data gathered from customer insights or from enterprise hardware and software as the gears of industry are turning, rather than after the fact. Data science doesn't let us see the future, yet, but it does help us make predictions and reasonable decisions, today, based on the facts.
We've already talked about some of the networked industrial equipment that's become indispensable to modern commerce. None of it is useful unless we have human insights and resourcefulness to make sense of it. Even when it's not human beings actively drawing conclusions from all that information, we'll still need lots of data scientists to write algorithms and build AI to do the concluding, and even some of the deciding, for us.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 19 percent job growth for computer and information research specialists by 2026.
3. Developers and Software Engineers
It seems like an eternity ago that the first graphical user interface made the news. These days, computers and software-based management and control systems are all around us. Some of our luckier children even begin learning coding essentials in grade school, which underscores just how important high-quality software and firmware has become in maintaining our collective quality of life.
As Industry 4.0 expands, we'll need lots of programmers and software engineers to design or write:
Machine code for industrial control and automated systems
Management platforms for internal industrial use and enterprise planning
Customer-facing and mobile apps for interacting with clients on-the-go and doing business everywhere
Data visualization tools and dashboards for surfacing industrial data, drawing conclusions from it and making business decisions based on it
Code to give robotic systems their marching orders and better facilitate human-machine interaction
In practical terms, this means companies engaged with Industry 4.0 technologies need more specialists than ever who are well-versed in real-time operating systems and the programming languages that help build and run them, such as Python, Ruby, C, C++, Java and others. When developers aren't building proprietary software or industrial control systems in-house, they often find themselves working with open-source alternatives or with vendors whose offerings interface with standard or legacy platforms and infrastructure.
Between now and 2026, the BLS expects the U.S. economy to add 302,500 jobs in software development, for a 24 percent increase.
We rightly refer to the opportunities presented by Industry 4.0 as unprecedented. Unfortunately, the risks that accompany our wireless and interconnected technologies are unprecedented too. Security experts advise that any company interested in investing in smarter technology — most especially if they plan to retrofit older machines and equipment to play a larger role in their IT infrastructure — must pay just as much attention to bringing security talent aboard.
The attack surface in Industry 4.0 is large indeed. From health care and retail to manufacturing and supply chain management, most industries on earth are finding useful ways to put emerging technologies to good use. Each of these industries represents billions or tens of billions of dollars' worth of investments and opportunities. Unfortunately, cyberattacks committed using internet-connected devices have exploded by more than 600 percent since 2017, according to IBM.
Don't expect these threats to abate by themselves. In the coming years and decades, companies of all shapes and sizes will have to take cybersecurity ever more seriously if they don't want to risk losing mission-critical data or fall victim to DDoS and other kinds of attacks. The BLS expects 28 percent job growth in the information security trades by 2026.
Which Industry 4.0 Skills Do Companies Actually Need?
If you represent a forward-thinking company and you're wondering what kind of skills you need to bring on board in the coming years, remember to first identify the problem you wish to solve or the shortcoming you want to address. Throwing money and talent at a perceived problem is wasteful unless it's done deliberately. There has to be a strong vision for growth and development at the offset, or you may end up squandering your own head start.