Closeup man worker checking advanced industrial control panel

The 4.0 Shift: From Line Worker to Knowledge Worker

Monday, August 12, 2019

In my last piece, I explored the effects of Industry 4.0 on current-day manufacturing. The addition of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to the assembly line has completely revolutionized and re-imagined the roles our leaders and employees must play. The Digital Age has reshaped the technology of our industry as well as the skills we need to succeed. AI and robotics are automating systems faster than ever before, in turn creating a dire need for soft skill development—specifically, emotional intelligence and pragmatic thinking.

In my work and conversations with clients in the industry, I’ve heard the same sentiments being echoed—as Industry 4.0 barrels on, organizations are still struggling to transition between 2.0 and 3.0. Additionally, the cyclical nature of an industry based on supply and demand has led to a hiring process that fluctuates, causing gaps throughout the year, which in turn has an impact on the overall leadership strategy. Our technology is advancing but our leadership development is not.

This gap in the leadership pipeline is due in part to a focus on product development over people development. With the emergence of 4.0, though, this is changing. Machine learning and analytics have helped predict trends and simplified the product planning process, ultimately leaving more time and money in the budget for professional development. The problem? Organizations don’t know where to start.

The Manufacturing Leadership Dilemma

With 2.7 million workers set to retire and 1.4 million jobs to be filled, there are more than two million manufacturing jobs open at present (Arellano 2017) . The immediate need to hire coupled with an abundance of Millennials and Gen Zers storming the managerial ranks has led to a lot of confusion and feelings of unpreparedness. Only 26 percent of respondents in Deloitte’s 2019 survey said they were ready or very ready for the new wave of technology while a whopping 86 percent of respondents called attention to the need for their organization to change the way people learn so they can adequately face these changes (Deloitte 2019).

The need for effective leadership development in manufacturing is more prominent than ever. Here’s where you can start:


1. Future-focused leadership behaviors and mindsets.
When we think about changing behavior we need to think about it as gradual process. If we are to change a behavior, the old habit needs to be replaced with a new one then sustained. Give your leaders a tool to help sustain their learning over time, such as e-learning or perhaps micro-lessons that are set up to be asynchronistic. Reset your leaders’ mindsets by empowering them with the knowledge of leadership skills. We learn faster and more efficiently when we become teachers, so empower your leaders to be coaches, give them the tools to deal with difficult situations in a diplomatic way.

2. Leadership planning and development at all levels.
Frontline leaders are just as important as senior level executives, especially in effectively filling a leadership pipeline. All employees need to be equipped with the tools to face 4.0 and beyond. Imagine an organization where leaders at every level are speaking the same language and have the same understanding of process for dealing with change, conflict, feedback, and trust. No matter what level you start developing your leaders, the message needs to be communicated through all levels, so each one can support the next.


3. Pioneering leadership role models for 4.0.
To avoid what we’re facing now—gaps in employment, a fluctuating supply and demand cycle, feelings of unpreparedness—we need to develop frontline leaders to set an example for future employees and start the development process earlier. By investing in the people of today, we are investing in the success of the organization.

Industry 4.0 has brought about a shift in manufacturing, one from line worker to knowledge worker, which means we’re requiring more from our employees in the Digital Age. Our workers must be equipped with the skills to succeed—the technical skills and the interpersonal skills like collaboration, adaptability, and communication. It's time to empower leaders at all levels to succeed by democratizing access to leadership development and aptly preparing our organizations for the inevitable challenges of 4.0.

About the Author

As a client director at AchieveForum, Jessica Strzepek collaborates with Thought Leaders to provide support to new partners, primarily within the manufacturing space. Jessica works to ensure that these organizations uncover the best solution to develop a culture of Leadership excellence. Her goal is to democratize Leadership for all and help her partners to thrive in building leaders that will guide their company to greatness. Visit our website to learn more about AchieveForum.

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