Workforce of the Future
Industry will require more knowledgeable personnel with practical thinking skills and manufacturing process know-how

With the recognition that low labor cost is not a sustainable competitive advantage, manufacturers worldwide are increasing their use of automation. Greater application and deployment of technology means industry will require more knowledgeable personnel with practical thinking skills and manufacturing process know-how. Industry analyst firm The Gartner Group thinks this will come in the form of a “citizen data scientist”—a person who creates or generates models that leverage predictive or prescriptive analytics, but whose primary job function is outside of the field of statistics and analytics. 

The most important areas for automation engineers and technicians to focus on in the future are analytics, data science concepts, and manufacturing and production process knowledge, as well as how to apply skills in those areas to increase productivity, quality, profits, and flexibility. The availability of no-code development tools that empower subject-matter experts to create applications is another major trend. The simplest longstanding example of that is the spreadsheet, which enabled a wide range of people with subject-matter expertise to leverage computing. 

A 2019 survey in the pharmaceutical industry reported the following six skills as necessary for success in the future: understanding equipment and processes; strong communications skills; firm understanding of software development and programming concepts; creative and detail-oriented thinking; ability to troubleshoot equipment; ability to perform complex system tests. The survey respondents noted that mentoring and Internet-based online training will continue to grow, since it is responsive, immediate, and efficient. 

The growing application of mechatronics and collaborative robots will require automation personnel to understand the applications of these technologies. Automation professionals are essential to successfully selecting and applying these and other technologies, and important guides for management looking to maximize productivity. 

By Bill Lydon, Contributing Editor 

Key Elements and Drivers

  • No-code development tools 
  • Need for ongoing process optimization 
  • Robotic and mechatronic applications 
  • Accessible documentation and frictionless collaboration 
  • On-demand and remote learning 


Industry Impact

  • Manufacturing executive management needs to functionally understand automation possibilities
  • Manufacturers need to educate employees about production processes
  • Scaling and standardization of processes and technology solutions must occur
  • Increased collaboration between humans and technology will happen


For ISA Members and Leaders

  • Standardization potentially needed in new areas 
  • Development of analytics strategies for production processes focused on industry applications  
  • Functional data science training programs for operational technology and automation professionals 
  • More and better online, on-demand training programs 


Articles and Resources

How COVID-19 Has Changed the Future of Work in the Industrial Sector

ISA Interchange Blog - 21 August 2020

We had lofty visions for what the future of work (FoW) would look like for the industrial sector. It has been a hot discussion topic for the last 10 years.

Then COVID-19 hit, and we had to rapidly adapt to a new paradigm with almost no notice.

Now that everyone has had few months to breathe (wear your masks in public!) and adapt to this “new normal,” let’s look back on what happened and then project a bit on what the new FoW vision is in this post-COVID world. 

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The Future of Automation: Will Robots Take Your Job?

ISA Interchange Blog - 19 May 2020


When you hear that word, what comes to mind?

The answer most likely depends on your familiarity with our industry. To many people outside the automation industry, the first thought that might pop up is:

"Will my job be replaced by a robot?"

The concern is valid for a lot of people all over the world. If we’re being honest, there is no simple answer.

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Pandemic Pushes Human Adaptability to New Heights

InTech Magazine - May/June 2020

We were already challenged trying to keep up with technological change in our personal and professional lives. Industrial companies of all types are navigating “digital transformations” being pushed by the new technologies of Industry 4.0. The people who work for and with those companies have been adapting to and encouraging technological changes with varying success and support. Then along comes a new coronavirus and its demands.

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Add Remote Monitoring to Increase Maintenance Personnel Productivity

InTech Magazine - March/April 2020

The classic tool kit for an industrial automation maintenance technician typically included assorted hand tools and a multimeter. And for many years now, the tool kit has likely included a laptop computer for the technician to interface with programmable logic controllers (PLCs), human-machine interfaces (HMIs), and other intelligent industrial devices and instruments. Another key element is likely a phone or radio, so operations personnel can contact the technician if trouble is observed. The discovery and notification of trouble is where remote monitoring can be used to improve upon existing practices, and why it should be an integral part of every technician’s tool kit.

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