Addressing workforce development with a 360° approach

Devising a workforce development plan to close the knowledge gaps will set everyone up for success and make the Industry 4.0 journey a successful one.

By Duane Grob June 5, 2021

A common challenge for manufacturers is expanding or introducing a new production line in order to prepare for a projected increase in sales or new type of product. It is no easy feat to balance the key ingredients of people, processes, and technologies, but when done effectively the result is success. There are many steps to project success; some are obvious and traditional, and others are more progressive to compensate for resource and support limitations in an Industry 4.0 (I4.0) world. First and foremost, is an obvious traditional problem; identifying the capital needs, their costs, and the subsequent return on investment (ROI).

This step is often the first obstacle to be nailed down. Once that hurdle has been tackled, you are on the road to present and validate a clear business purpose for the new work. You do this to gain funding approval. The next step falls again into the obvious category, once you have approval you need to find qualified and reliable vendors. When you find vendors who are the right fit, you issue purchase orders (POs) and you are off to the races.

As the project advances, the more progressive I4.0 challenges begin to rear their heads. The definition of the type of people and, more importantly, the skills needed to operate, maintain, and support the system are created. Human resources is tasked to fill the gap and begins the interview process for operator, maintenance, and technical support personnel with the hope of forming a motivated and efficient team to catch the system when completed. “Hope” is the proper word here because the reality is qualified personnel with the skills and motivation are harder to find than a “2” in a binary state. This team needs to have the skills, drive, and ambition to make the new production a huge success. Often the process of finding the right people takes longer than anticipated. That’s okay. It is important to not compromise the entire project because of an unfit new hire.

Working with the system integrator (SI) engineers contracted to design and develop the system and act as the new support team is often an ideal solution, but may not be possible. If that is the case, you’ve won half the battle.

In a perfect world, the new team members would come on board with a wealth of knowledge about the system designs. They would know how to troubleshoot without panicking and would essentially become your defacto system support specialists, capable of adopting critical knowledge of other systems within your facility. As that perfect world is rarely a reality, devising a plan to close the knowledge gaps will set everyone up for success.

Throughout a project there are better times than others to add on new operation and maintenance employees. A best practice for the most effective spin up of resources is to expose them to the system and the requisite training during the installation and commissioning phase of the project. This allows them to digest a behind the scenes view of the inner workings of the system while keeping pace with the demands of the installation. This approach should consider the bandwidth of the existing team before overwhelming both the new and existing staff. Regardless of when in the lifecycle, a convenient and agreed upon plan to onboard new team members during the project lifecycle should be developed with your SI. This will ensure that new additions will both absorb your company culture, from you, as well as the up-to-date technical and operational skills, predominantly from your SI.

Many manufacturers do not have the bandwidth and skills to spin up the new resources with in-house resources. When that is the reality, one way to combat the challenge is through what we call, “People Development 360” (PD360). PD360 offloads the bulk of the responsibility and time commitment to train new resources from the manufacturer.  We accomplish this through targeted recruitment support and detailed experiential training delivery. PD360 provides the right amount of expertise to help to secure and onboard the correct blend of resources. Key to the success of any people development program is timely feedback and extensive evaluation of the new person’s progress toward their individual, technical, and operational independence goals. This process will allow them to gain independence as quickly as possible.

The effort to qualify, interview, hire, and train new people can be time consuming and expensive. A system integrator is an industry expert who knows the technology, and, if aligned correctly with the business, can help guide the manufacturer in selecting good potential employees with the process, relationship, and soft skills needed to be successful.  From that “good talent” foundation, the SI has a natural fit to prepare the new team players to be of value and contribute to the overall success of the system long term.

Process and technology strategy have always been at the forefront of project consideration because they are very tangible. As we move forward with Industry 4.0, we realize that the People strategy can be the true make or break point in the success of a system.  Strategies such as PD360 and other approaches can be pivotal in ensuring that success. Not to mention it minimizes the risk of having an under supported system. The manufacturers that embrace the “people” component of “people, process, and technology” will be the ones who are the most successful.

Duane Grob is business unit director at Avanceon, a CFE Media content partner. This article originally appeared on Avanceon’s website. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

Original content can be found at

Author Bio: Duane Grob, principle engineer, Avanceon