Closing the AI skills gap in manufacturing

Mat Piaggi, Behavioural Scientist at CoachHub, discusses the AI skills gap in the manufacturing sector & how the AI boom has impacted HR teams

Mat Piaggi is a Behavioural Scientist at CoachHub. His role involves helping individuals and organisations achieve their learning and development goals by leveraging the power of coaching. 

“I came into my role following a Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Glasgow, where I developed expertise in understanding human behaviour and behavioural change,” he says. 

CoachHub is a leading global provider of digital coaching. Through its AI-powered digital coaching platform, the company enables behavioural change and helps people and organisations to reach their goals. 

“We have a pool of more than 3,500 certified coaches, who offer coaching sessions in more than 60 languages to more than 1,000 clients. Through digital coaching, we are able to democratise coaching for all career levels worldwide, offering a personalised experience to everyone regardless of their industry or role.”

Here, Piaggi discusses the AI skills gap in manufacturing and explores the AI boom. 

How can manufacturing companies narrow the AI skills gap, through a focus on learning and development?

“The growing skills gap is an ongoing concern for many sectors and the manufacturing industry is no exception. In fact, lack of expertise was recently cited as one of the biggest barriers to product innovation faced by manufacturers. One of the causes of this challenge is that transformation in the manufacturing industry has been ongoing for some time, beginning with disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry had the crucial responsibility of ensuring that valuable goods were produced during that time - from life-saving medical supplies, to lockdown-fuelled purchases as many explored new hobbies in the confines of their homes. In order to keep the industry moving forward at the required pace, organisations had to make use of new technologies such as IoT (Internet of things), automation and AI to meet new demand. This has only accelerated with the rapid evolution of generative AI in the past year.

“Rapid growth mandates that employees are adequately trained in key technical job skills. As such, employers have to focus on providing the necessary learning and development opportunities to existing employees, particularly since there is high demand in the market.

“The first step would be implementing personalised training programmes tailored to each employee – this ensures that the organisation as a whole has the tools in place to navigate change successfully, no matter the impending challenges that come their way.”

How has the AI boom impacted HR teams in the manufacturing industry?

“In addition to the ongoing skills shortage, business leaders are experiencing a range of new pressures that impact their HR priorities. CoachHub research revealed that 37% of employees in manufacturing firms are seeking a career change or new job opportunities – demonstrating a strong culture shift that employers cannot ignore, or risk losing talented individuals.

“The AI boom has also impacted workplace culture and completely transformed practices that were once standard – such as training on organisation-wide policies. Policies that regulate the use of the internet and social media are commonplace in organisations, so introducing a generative AI policy is a logical next step. This would ensure consistency, remove doubts, and keep everyone on the same page. Like any workplace change, especially with technology, everything begins with effective internal communication.

“Establishing a bridge between leaders and employees, where open discussions can take place, benefits not only the organisation but also prevents the fear of judgement that could harm employee wellbeing and productivity.”

How can leaders design personalised LD programmes to alleviate the skills gap?

“In the manufacturing industry, 62% of employers are training existing staff to enhance skills and productivity and 97% believe a shortage of engineering talent is coming.  A greater focus on learning and development must be instilled in the sector to ensure employee retention and satisfaction moving forward, particularly in light of the impending challenges employers are facing. 

“Many businesses remain stuck in a cycle of offering blanket, standardised e-learning programmes that they have offered for years to their employees. This trend could result in businesses investing in people development programmes that aren’t meeting their needs. 

“A personalised learning and development strategy is crucial, particularly as new technologies are being introduced across the sector. Everyone has individual strengths and weaknesses, which when combined with rapidly changing job requirements, means that employees require targeted learning experiences for their unique needs. A one-size-fits all approach to learning and development doesn’t respond to the requirements of today’s businesses and also isn’t enjoyable or stimulating for employees. This is where coaching comes in as a viable option to help employees work toward their own unique career goals and develop skills that will keep them engaged in their job roles.”

Tell us about the importance of upskilling workers from different generations, with different backgrounds and skill sets.

“If the generative AI boom proves anything, it is that technology is continuing to develop rapidly and both businesses and workers need to keep up with this constantly evolving cycle.

“When it comes to generative AI, employees will all be at a different place when it comes to how aware they are of the technology and the ways in which it can make their jobs easier and more efficient. When communicating updates and training opportunities to workers, employers must keep in mind the different generations and backgrounds of their workforce - this will be crucial for making sure that the entire organisation is on the same page and able to take advantage of the technology in a way that is beneficial to the business. 

“Digital professional development programmes are an effective tool to upskill and empower employees from different generations by giving them the opportunity to continually upgrade their skills in line with new trends and job roles. This not only improves the talent pool in the organisation but enhances employees’ experience of the workplace by ensuring they are constantly growing and developing. Digital coaching tools use AI to help employees choose and match them to the right coach based on their personality. 

“Coaches start the process by planning their sessions and defining the goals they hope to achieve over time. After evaluating the employees strengths and areas for improvement, the coach can help the coaches develop a strategy for learning and growth.”

Tell us about your work with AI.

“At CoachHub, we recently released AIMY - the first conversational AI career coach. This is a non-commercial pilot project designed to identify the potential of AI technology, explore its boundaries and understand the implications for the coaching industry. We’re using that research to determine what future coaching models could look like. 

“However, we believe that coaching is and will remain human as it requires years of professional training and empathy, to be a successful coach - but AI could certainly augment the experience. 

“CoachHub already uses AI in a variety of areas - primarily in pairing coaches with coaches, matching relevant training materials to learners and predictive usage modelling to help with the continuous learning process.”

What are the latest technologies the manufacturing industry should be aware of?

“Workforce and financial woes that arose during the pandemic still remain, as new challenges have cropped up from the economic downturn that prevented them from being resolved.

“Access to new technologies are helping drive the manufacturing industry forward, and although there are barriers to AI adoption - it will be a key part of solving challenges that are still present in the sector. Automation can help solve some of the workforce issues, by allowing workers to spend less time focused on manual processes and more time on innovation. 

“Learning and development programmes that are powered by AI, such as digital coaching, will be a key tool for organisations as they move forward - enabling each employee to reach their full potential and ensuring the organisation as a whole is successful.” 

What do the next 12 months hold for you?

“In the upcoming year, we have some exciting plans ahead. Our focus will be to continue driving innovation within the coaching industry, with an emphasis on enhancing the overall experience for coaches, coaches and clients alike. We’re investing significant resources to expand our research efforts, especially in the field of AI. Watch this space!”


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