According to a 2014 report by Accenture, a whopping “80% of manufacturers report a moderate to severe shortage” of qualified applicants for skilled positions, such as technicians and operational managers. Considering that skilled and highly skilled roles make up a significant — and growing — part of the manufacturing workforce, this shortage is an acute challenge for the industry.

Current training methods are not enough to solve this challenge, especially as the industry anticipates a wave of retirements in the coming decade. To adapt to this rapidly evolving talent landscape, manufacturers are turning to advanced technologies that enable workers to onboard and upskill faster and more effectively than ever before. When integrated into emerging smart factory infrastructure, technologies such as augmented reality (AR), 3D work instructions and contextualized data analytics help both experienced and new workers improve performance and develop a wider set of technical skills.

1. Augmented and Mixed Reality

AR and mixed reality (MR) initially were focused on targeted consumer use cases such as gaming, but the industrial sector is rapidly embracing these cutting-edge technologies on a broad scale to improve training in critical areas such as safety, maintenance and quality assurance. Employees taught with AR have shown a wide variety of improved outcomes, including increased understanding, better knowledge of spatial structure and function, increased long-term memory retention, and improved physical task performance.

As the factory environment continues to rapidly evolve in the face of technological and regulatory changes, better training will enhance the shift to flexible production models. When coupled with the data stream generated by connected line equipment, AR and MR will enable workers to analyze performance in real time, troubleshooting issues more quickly and avoiding major downtime for unforeseen repairs.

2. 3D Work Instructions

With AR and MR headsets for individual workers on the factory floor, industrial managers have several new tools to consistently train and upskill their people. 3D work instructions enable users to learn on the job while they navigate the real work environment rather than learning from a textbook or lecture.

Traditional, classroom-based methods of training are being proven increasingly ineffective in many industries, especially for adults, who typically learn better through purpose-driven, task-oriented, experiential learning. Studies have shown that adults prefer individualized lessons that move at their own pace, with the student driving the speed of the course. With 3D instructions embedded over the production line with MR, new workers always have a reference ready to assist them on the job. For veteran workers, these new learning tools enable them to continuously update their skills without taking time away from work. Experienced workers can also add valuable instructions based on their expertise, thereby preserving tribal knowledge as the manufacturing workforce braces for a wave of retirements in the next decade.

3. Contextualized Data and Analytics

As operational technology (OT) and informational technology (IT) converge, real-time performance data analytics will transform every role in the factory. Whether on a headset or a tablet, delivering critical data points at the time, in the place and with the context required to make decisions is critical to knowing which aspects of production to fix — and how to do so.

With every piece of equipment connected to the factory network, industrial workers will become data-centric. With the right data at their fingertips, factory workers can move from reactive maintenance schedules that can involve costly line shutdowns to proactive programs that address smaller issues before they cause wider damage. With data streams customized and contextualized for each role, workers have a better, more comprehensive view of factory operations; are better prepared to optimize their time; and develop important data-centric problem-solving skills.

4. Technology-centric Roles Attract the Next Generation of Talent

Generation Z is entering the workforce with radically different expectations, experiences and needs than preceding generations. Born into the digital era, they adapt to new technologies with ease and are looking for professions where they can leverage the latest of those technologies.

For the first time in generations, the manufacturing sector and industry 4.0 have significant benefits and appeal to offer young employees. According to Dell Technologies, 80% of young workers want “to work with cutting-edge technology,” and 91% say that technology would be a factor in choosing a job. With AR, MR and the industrial internet of things (IIoT), factories are becoming the center of cutting-edge technological development. Combined with new training methods that integrate technology and experiential learning, manufacturing is primed to recruit a new generation of digital natives.

With IIoT, the factory has more than a tech upgrade; it also has a people upgrade. Technologies like AR/MR, 3D work instructions and contextualized data are poised to transform the manufacturing workforce into dynamic, tech-centric personnel who actively analyze and react to data from throughout the factory.