With high-level maintenance & repair skills seemingly in short supply, executives from Rockwell Automation tell Jonny Williamson how its Services & Solutions can help fill the gap.
When it comes to meeting the demands of today’s skillset, the figures for manufacturing make for sombre reading. According to Deloitte, of the 3.5 million manufacturing jobs needing to be filled over the coming decade, nearly 2 million will go unfilled because of an endemic skills shortage.
A revitalized focus on apprenticeships in recent years has certainly been welcome, however, it is a long-term solution to an issue which needs addressing in the very near future. The average age of a highly skilled manufacturing worker is around 55, leaving a considerable knowledge and experience gulf in their wake.
Patrick Murray, director, market development, Rockwell Automation Services & Solutions, described to me how China – long considered to be the “world’s factory floor” – will soon have to contend with a “serious and wide-reaching labour shortage”.
As impactful as that will be for China itself, the repercussions will be similarly felt by the vast majority of the global brands who currently rely on Chinese operations for their production.
Closer to home, The Manufacturer’s own Annual Manufacturing Report 2016 found that technical and practical skills currently lead the pack in terms of those which UK manufacturers have difficulty sourcing, with almost two-thirds (61%) of those surveyed mentioning them.
Dave Melhuish, manager, customer support and maintenance UK & Ireland, Rockwell Automation Services & Solutions told me that the skills challenge industry faces is exactly the same as that which Rockwell Automation itself has to contend with.
Fortunately, Melhuish continued, Rockwell Automation is in a position to try and ease the burden.
Narrowing the gap
According to Melhuish, as technology changes and improves, maintenance and repair can be one area which is pushed to one side.
“Training becomes huge in the face of a specific skills gap, whether that be in networking, manufacturing, engineering or the installation of new technology and systems. That’s why Rockwell Automation Services & Solutions offers very specific training within a diverse portfolio of activities.
“Part of our challenge is understanding what customers’ issues are and what they can do to address them, particularly in the face of potential barriers such as tight budgets and heavy workloads,” he said.
Training activities include onsite training, instructor-led training from Rockwell Automation premises, virtual classrooms, group sessions and one-on-one lessons. The duration can also accommodate differing requirements, ranging from standalone days to year-long programmes.
“The structure can change dramatically depending on the individual need. For example, in recent years we have moved far beyond traditional classroom-based training. What is absolutely key, is being adaptable to whatever issue a particular customer is facing and then help them to address it,” Melhuish added.
As important as training is in raising productivity – whether directly or indirectly, it plays an equally vital role in boosting employee health and safety.
Murray described how older workers can be at a higher risk for certain injuries, such as those caused by lifting heavy loads or those resulting from reduced reaction times. However, he noted that it’s the younger and less experienced workers who are more frequently injured and to a more serious extent.
Rockwell Automation Services & Solutions offers a range of associated safety services, including initial assessment, installation and validation, design and application reviews, and training, all tied together under its Safety Life Cycle matrix.
“We have a wealth of experience of working within customer environments which contain products and systems supplied by a number of different vendors, not always including ourselves. What we take is a very product-safety focused approach, rather than one centred around product-vendor,” said Melhuish.
With uncertainty currently rife within industry, front of mind for any manufacturer are methods to optimise their assets and minimise downtime. Businesses need to ensure that they have the right skillsets to support what they are doing in their existing production environment in order to plan for any scheduled downtime activity, as well as react swiftly should an emergency stoppage occur.
For more information about Rockwell Automation Services & Solutions, visit the website.
The responsibility of getting a plant back up and running as fast as possible typically falls to maintenance engineers, however manufacturers are increasingly looking to outsource such activities. Once again, Rockwell Automation Services & Solutions provides such an offering.
“A manufacturer will typically have an in-house team trained to a certain level, as determined by the customer, but we offer an additional back-up. They may want every single member of their team to be fully competent and trained to the level of an expert, but that’s quite unusual these days.
“Our engineers are available 24/7, 365 days a year and being linked to the customer’s systems and network allows them to predict any potential downtime. They can see exactly what is going on and when able, prevent an issue before it happens. Alternatively, they can discuss with the customer bringing a system down for an allotted period of time to fix any pending issue,” concluded Melhuish.