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3 Ways to Close the Digital Engineering Skills Gap

How can manufacturers accelerate digital transformation efforts to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Here are three ways to close the digital skills gap.

How can manufacturers accelerate digital transformation efforts to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Here are three ways to close the digital skills gap.

Tommy Gardner, HP Federal.

Throughout history, engineers have played a quiet but prominent role in imagining, designing and ultimately delivering the machinery, merchandise and monuments defining world economies. 

During the first several industrial revolutions, they accomplished remarkable feats using basic tools: pencils, paper, T-squares, slide rules, and, most importantly, their imaginations. As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where more than 8 billion “things” are online and communicating with one another, the tools used by engineers are dramatically changing.

In today’s environment, engineers must be well-versed in CAD, finite element analysis, computational fluid dynamics, high-performance computing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, 3D printing and other digital technologies. 

Many manufacturers struggle to find engineers with broad enough backgrounds to meet their needs. McKinsey & Co. expects demand for skilled talent to exceed the supply by as much as 60% in the next few years. According to a recent Capgemini survey, while most manufacturers are investing in digital technology, only 21% consider themselves to be at an “advanced stage.” 

How can manufacturers accelerate digital transformation efforts to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Here are three ways to close the digital skills gap: 

1. Develop In-House Talent.

Lack of digital culture and training is the biggest challenge facing companies, according to a PwC survey (pwc.to/1VnitVt).

Most large manufacturers already employ hundreds of experienced engineers, many of whom accumulated their knowledge when the internet of things was more the stuff of science fiction than embedded in everyday life. 

To accelerate digital transformation, every company should establish training programs to create employees who can “think in 3D,” because the technology will reshape how products are designed, as well as play an important role in how they are delivered to customers. A recent HP report predicts trillion of dollars in the global economy will be disrupted and redistributed in the next 10 years via the accelerating growth of 3D manufacturing. 

Companies should take time in bringing their existing engineers up to speed on these critical technologies, as well as hire fresh younger talent out of school. The companies that combine both talent pools stand to advance in the talent marketplace. 

2. Partner to Train Incoming Talent.

Companies alone shouldn’t shoulder all responsibility for creating the next generation of engineers. They can partner with local junior colleges and universities to establish a digitally focused curriculum as well as participate in industry initiatives aimed at promoting digital engineering best practices. 

One of the best examples of this comes from the U.S. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (ODASD; acq.osd.mil/se/initiatives/init_de.html), which established a working group to further digital engineering principles throughout government agencies. This group frequently turns to manufacturers for advice, advocacy and to solve challenges with digital technology implementation across the government-industry boundary.

Many academics, government leaders and manufacturers share the common goal of nurturing digital engineering talent. It behooves every company, therefore, to partner and collaborate in training their potential future employees.

3. Emphasize Continuous and Varied Learning.

Engineers who specialize in multiple technologies will be in demand. As technology becomes more immersive and complex, those who limit themselves to learning how to operate only one technology will be limiting their careers.

Engineers can keep up with the evolution of technology through online learning platforms, such as those of Coursera, edX, ASME, IEEE or CIBSE. Companies should make continuous learning programs available to employees throughout the year on subjects that project their specific needs. 

These learning programs should focus on technologies that complement existing areas of expertise and enable new product development and operational scenarios. For example, a company’s digital engineers might already be capable in 3D printers but might benefit from learning more about how light guide systems could be added as an augmented reality tool to transform the manual assembly and manufacturing processes. Companies must consider investment in continuous learning of their employees. 

Well-rounded digital engineers will be invaluable. By developing in-house engineering talent, partnering to advance industry-wide digital knowledge and assuring continuous learning, manufacturers can unlock the promise of the digital future. 

Tommy Gardner is HP’s chief technology officer for HP Federal

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