Augmented Reality to Fill Skills Gap
Nestor Gula posted on November 06, 2019 |
How can AR help leverage the knowledge of an aging workforce?

The population of the world is getting older. This trend has been in existence in the developed world for several decades, but declining birthrates and aging population is affecting most countries in the globe.

In Canada, 17.2 percent of Canadians were aged 65 and older in 2018, compared with 14.4 percent in 2011, according to Statistics Canada. In the United States, 12.4% of the population were 65 or over in 2000 and 16 percent in 2018. Japan has the most seniors with seniors making up 28 percent of the population.

The aging population is inadvertently one of hottest topics in manufacturing. “25 % of workforce is 55 or older,” says Keith Higgins, VP of Digital Transformation at Rockwell Automation. “Those jobs are not being actively pursued by the younger generation and there is a skills gap that is growing. It is important to get the most out of existing veteran workers.”

 Tribal Knowledge

 What older/veteran workers have is knowing how things work. “These individuals have all the tribal knowledge. The sixth senses,” says Higgins. “They have been doing this for many years and they know how things work and why they work - or don’t work, because of their experiences and expertise in the working environments.” Holding on to the knowledge and skills that a veteran worker has is one of many challenges that confront manufacturing establishments these days.

 Augmented reality is a new tool that can make the mining and retention of that expertise much better and much more automated. Having an experienced worker perform, for example, a regular maintenance procedure on a piece of equipment and recording a voice over using augmented reality greatly enhances skill and experience transfer rom one generation of workers to the next. “Using an augmented reality headset, a new employee can follow, very specifically, the procedure that was performed by a more experienced worker, with great knowledge transfer and a fraction of the time it would otherwise take,” explains Higgins.

With augmented and mixed reality-enabled headsets, workers can safely train, in a digital environment, to address problems such as – increased line speed, quality issues, breakdowns, hazardous conditions, among others. “Systems like Vuforia from PTC is aimed at helping close the skill gap by expertly capturing a procedure that is done in an industrial environment and passing that expertise on to someone else,” he said. Workers can more effectively and efficiently address challenges with more real-to-life instructions presented by veteran co-workers with tribal knowledge of the work environment in this 3D-based work instruction format.

 With a lack of qualified people entering the manufacturing workforce, this sector also has to deal with the fact that the manufacturing landscape is getting exponentially more complex. “We have connected manufacturing operations. There are systems talking to each other from the office to the plant floor – you have analytics on a real time basis,” says Higgins. “There is a technology adoption curve that is pretty steep right now for everybody in manufacturing. It is the same for everybody whether they are new hires or veterans.”

 Having veteran workers can do nothing but ensure continuity of expertise in the rapid resolution of issues that come up in a manufacturing environment. “They are the ones that know how to diagnose, troubleshoot and remediate anything that is in the way of the production schedule. You have to be very careful of not losing the tribal knowledge,” emphasizes Higgins. 

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