Empowering the workforce: OMRON’s approach to skills development in European manufacturing

Posted on 10 Oct 2023 by The Manufacturer

Fernando Colás, CEO of OMRON's Industrial Automation Business Unit (IAB) in Europe, discusses how OMRON is promoting skills development to enable the transition from 4IR to 5IR, empowering people through automation and placing the wellbeing of the worker at the centre of production processes.

Amongst academics, business leaders and politicians there is a great deal of debate about how moving from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, 4IR, or Industry 4.0 as it is also known, to Industry 5.0 will change the world in which we live.

Historically the Industrial Revolution was the First Machine Age, and electricity the Second, then electronics was the Third, and the internet as platform the Fourth Machine Age. We are now entering the Fifth Machine Age, which highlights harmonious human-machine collaboration and the contributions of the industry to society.

Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum has observed that: “We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.

There can be little doubt that both 4IR and 5IR – and the extraordinary technology advances they are already bringing – represent a fundamental change. These advances are merging the physical, digital and biological worlds in ways that create both huge promise and potential challenges.

Fundamental shifts have already taken place in how the global production and supply network operates through the automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices, using modern smart technology, large-scale machine-to-machine communication (M2M), and the Internet of Things (IoT), now complemented also with collaborative robotics.

This integration has resulted in increased automation that exceeds human capabilities and embraces human-machine collaboration, improved communication and self-monitoring, and the use of smart machines that can analyse and auto-diagnose issues, and even prevent and anticipate issues before they occur.

More recently there has been a growing and increasingly polarised debate about how the emergence of AI will create even greater change in our lives.

The automation myth

As a result of these far-reaching changes, there’s a misconception that robots, automation and AI will replace people’s jobs. But the opposite is true. Many businesses are struggling to recruit enough qualified staff to help them take advantage of the opportunities that the latest technological innovations offer.

This is partly due to an ageing population, many people dropping out of the workforce during the covid pandemic and traditional education models struggling to adapt to the factory of the future.

OMRON operates at the forefront of technology, developing automation, robotics and artificial intelligence. OMRON provides solutions to the main issued faced by a wide range of industries, from packaging and processing, automotive, life sciences and food and drink industries. These technologies are changing the face of manufacturing and for us recruiting, developing and retaining good people is more important than ever.

Without the right colleagues with the right skills we won’t be able to realise the potential of the new industrial revolution. In addition, we believe that technology will help to support people to improve their skills and achieve better performance. Technology can empower people to excel.

Shaping the Future 2030

In line with our “Shaping the Future 2030 (SF2030)” long-term vision launched in 2022, we are working to shape a sustainable society by continuously creating social and corporate value from the integration of business growth and sustainability. We are committed to developing automation solutions that can address issues in our society and help build the factories of the future that are clearly more sustainable, oriented to the wellbeing of workers, and flexible to quickly react to uncertainty caused by events such as pandemics, wars, and climate change.

Our mission of “Improving lives and contributing to a better society,” means we place great emphasis on supporting educators to equip the next generation to face the challenges and seize the possibilities that Industry 5.0epresents.

We have long recognised that we have to invest in the future of our people to ensure that we are creating a pool of talent to whom we can offer long-term rewarding careers. This involves collaboration with schools, colleges and universities across many of the European markets in which we operate.

In Italy, our strong collaboration with the education system, particularly in the field of technical and scientific education, sets us apart. Our Educational Project, spanning across various institutions including Technological High Schools, Higher Technical Institutes (ITS), universities, and polytechnics, showcases our advanced approach. This initiative was instrumental in the realization of our Academy Project.

The Academy Project focuses on Higher Technical Institutes, specialized centers addressing the industrial sector’s need for advanced technical skills. These institutes, deeply intertwined with Italy’s industrial fabric, were established within the dual education system.

We are also actively expanding our engagement in higher education by establishing connections with universities and polytechnics through our University Project. This initiative encompasses tailored training, seminars, lectures, masterclasses, and conferences, fostering a robust network of academic partnerships.

Mirroring our efforts in secondary education, OMRON has devised training programs for university professors and students, underscoring our decade-long dedication to nurturing future talents.

We are also actively developing skills in other European markets. In the UK we run a two-year apprenticeship programme, rotating the recruits every six months around the different departments, such as sales, application development and technical support. This gives them a broad exposure to our business and hopefully enables them to have more choice in their future career path with us.

In Spain at OMRON Electronics Iberia, we have assembled a team of young and dynamic individuals whose purpose is to introduce cutting-edge technology into classrooms. Through personalised interactions, we aim to provide them with comprehensive information on our state-of-the-art solutions and technology. Our extensive range of automation kits is specifically designed to address the diverse educational needs within the sector.

In addition: OMRON, together with more than 60 companies and organizations, has joined “La Alianza por la Formación Profesional” (The Alliance for Vocational Training) a national strategy initiative promoted by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training.

The Alliance for Vocational Training aims to bring together efforts and seek synergies among government bodies, companies and third sector groups. Its goal is to promote specific initiatives that contribute to shaping effective, dynamic, and excellent vocational training programmes.

Working with our customers

As well as developing the talent of the future we also recognise the importance of our customers to our future success and so we are actively supporting them as they work to realise the latest opportunities.

So, at OMRON we have built a network of two European Automation Centres and 15 Proof of Concept labs where we work with our customers to turn automation concepts into real-life innovate applications. These facilities connect our global and local development, production, and sales networks. By constantly sharing the latest technology, know-how, and information on technical standards, they facilitate the evolution of manufacturing innovation.

These facilities allow customers to develop new solutions, learn about the benefits robotics can deliver and enable them to fast-track solutions to business challenges.

The future

The pace, breadth and complexity of the latest technological innovations and 5IR is forcing us to rethink how organisations support and develop people, create value and how we will live our lives. The Fifth Industrial Revolution is about more than just technology-driven change; it is an opportunity to help everyone to harness converging technologies to create an inclusive, human-centred, sustainable and resilient future.

At OMRON we believe our Shaping the Future 2030 vision is helps our employees, communities and customer adapt to these challenges and create a better world together. It is only through collaborations with educators, customers and numerous other stakeholders that we will be able to equip colleagues with the skills they need to successfully adapt to the new future.

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