Advanced Manufacturing driving the fourth industrial revolution

With great change comes great challenges and to meet these head on, firms must embrace a culture of continuous learning and adaptability, says Solas chief Andrew Brownlee

Andrew Brownlee, chief executive of Solas: it’s important to have a workforce that is highly adaptable, flexible and innovative

Advanced Manufacturing is a revolution quietly unfolding before our eyes, and it's spearheading the charge towards the highly anticipated Industry 4.0. The fourth industrial revolution is bringing a wave of automation, interconnectivity, and data-driven intelligence that will reshape the entire production landscape.

With great technological advancements come great challenges. But to fully harness its potential, we must equip our workforce with the skills and knowledge required to thrive in this brave new world. The reality is that the traditional manufacturing skills that have served us well in the past may no longer be sufficient. We need to embrace a culture of continuous learning and adaptability.

Andrew Brownlee, chief executive of Solas said that the recently published OECD review of Skills Strategy in Ireland acknowledged the role of Ireland’s educated population as a key driver of economic and employment growth, particularly in attracting and retaining foreign direct investment. At the same time, it highlighted the fact that globalisation, digital transformation, green transition and demographic change are changing the skills needed for the economy to keep on thriving.

The report recommended: People will need to leave education with the skills needed not only to meet the needs of the labour market and society of today but for those of tomorrow as well. Adults will need opportunities to upskill and reskill to perform new tasks in their existing jobs, assume the duties of new jobs and adapt to new modes of work, behaviour, consumption and participation in society. Firms will have to adopt more creative and productive ways of using their employees’ skills, and robust governance structures will be needed to ensure that reforms are sustainable.

Brownlee said: “The review highlighted the need to focus on the development of intermediate skills and the need to increase lifelong learning participation in order to drive the full realisation of Ireland’s economic potential.”

As new technologies emerge, industry has been flexing and adapting to remain competitive in the face of global competition and to drive value-added product and service innovation. Brownlee said that having a workforce that is highly adaptable, flexible and innovative and one that has the skills to adapt to these new technologies has also been fundamental.

Government and industry must collaborate to provide accessible and comprehensive upskilling programs for workers already in the field. By supporting initiatives such as apprenticeships, vocational training, and retraining programs, we can equip our workforce with the skills needed to stay relevant in the rapidly evolving manufacturing landscape. The benefits of upskilling go beyond mere survival in the face of technological advancements. By investing in our workforce, we can drive innovation, increase productivity, and attract new investments. Ireland has already proven itself as a hub for multinational corporations, and by embracing advanced manufacturing, we can position ourselves as a global leader in this field.

“The Further Education and Training Sector, delivers skills programmes designed to address Ireland’s critical intermediate skills gaps. This is informed by research from the Solas Skills and Labour Market Research team and future skills forecasting.”

A good example of this is the opening of the Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre of Excellence (AMTCE) in Dundalk which was established as a key further education and training response to the significant transformation in manufacturing through the adoption of industry 4.0 technologies such as robotics, AI and additive manufacturing.

The Advanced Manufacturing Technology Centre of Excellence (AMTCE) was established by Louth Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB) in January 2021 in Dundalk, Co Louth to address the training needs of the advanced manufacturing sector in Ireland.

FET Director, Advanced Manufacturing and Training Centre of Excellence, Sadie Ward McDermott said that the centre provides courses and programmes delivered by leading industry practitioners to upskill and reskill employees via flexible delivery mechanisms including classroom, blended and online.

“These courses have a strong skills focus using industry grade equipment. Courses are funded through the Solas Skills to Advance initiative. The AMTCE also focuses on talent pipeline generation for the sector through the provision of apprenticeship and traineeship programmes. The AMTCE also engages in the development of new programmes including a new L6 apprenticeship in Robotics and Automation and a microcrendential programme in Robotics in Advanced Manufacturing.”

She said that the digitisation revolution of advanced manufacturing is having a significant impact on the sector. “Employers and their employees recognise that operations are becoming more digital which requires new skills. Employees need to gain these skills in order to support the adoption, operation, and evolution of industry 4.0 technologies within their companies to drive innovation and to maintain competitiveness.

“Both employers and employees will have to invest in lifelong upskilling and reskilling to maintain a future ready workforce. Employees will need to maintain their existing skills and to acquire new skills and knowledge in response to the rapid and continuous evolution of technologies such as AI/ML. The adoption of new technologies within the advanced manufacturing sector will also drive the generation of high value technical career opportunities for both apprentices and trainees.”

Ireland stands at the threshold of a new era in manufacturing. Workforces need to be equipped with the necessary skills and foster a culture of continuous learning. By doing so, we can not only meet the demands of advanced manufacturing but also position Ireland as a trailblazer in an exciting and transformative field.

“What is crucial, particularly in a time of full employment, is that industry and education providers continue to work together to identify the critical skills needs so that the right upskilling programmes are available for individuals either entering or already in the workforce,” said Brownlee.

“This will ensure that the 21st century skills and innovation in areas like automation and robotics in the manufacturing industry are in place to drive continued growth both in terms of employment and the economy.”