The Internet of Things (IoT) is making every industry a technology industry. Just look at today’s automobile. With hundreds of sensors, cameras, computers, wireless communications, and standards-based high-speed deterministic networks, cars are now essentially mobile data centers and smartphones on wheels. That means the old-line auto industry is chasing the same pool of tech-savvy workers as any Silicon Valley startup.
IoT is driving the same phenomenon across many industries: Farmers use data analytics to improve soil quality and optimize planting, watering, and harvesting schedules. Mining companies use predictive maintenance capabilities to prevent equipment downtime. Cargo companies use sensors to track containers so they can optimize shipping routes and the movement of empty and full containers.
As the IoT-based economy drives trillions of dollars in economic growth, we are already experiencing a worldwide scramble for the same IoT-capable workforce. In my last post, I discussed the new work roles IoT is creating and the new skills that are needed to succeed in this new era. Now let’s look at how to attract and train the workers who will help you meet this challenge.
Start by cultivating your own people.
As I speak with companies around the world that are wrestling with this issue, the answer comes from an oddly quaint approach: Go back to the basics. Start by cultivating your own people.
That means training them in IoT-related skills—not just the technology and processes but also soft skills such as virtual teaming and collaboration. This is job one for every company starting on the IoT journey. Creating an IoT-ready workforce is not a one-time training event. It is a mindset change. It’s a new way to run your organization. A new contract between your company and your employees.
A generation ago, it was common for people to stay in the same job for 20-30 years, perhaps advancing from worker to supervisor to line manager but using essentially the same skillset. My father-in-law, for example, worked for decades in one job as the chief technologist in a steel mill. That world is gone.
Today, people have to navigate a dynamic landscape where they need to reinvent themselves every three to seven years to keep up with fast-changing IoT technologies and processes. This requires a mindset of continuous learning—for both employees and companies. IoT is a journey, and so is learning the skills it requires.
Next, expand your search.
To find new IoT-capable employees, you will need to look beyond the usual places. Of course, continue to engage with four-year colleges and universities, but also check out community colleges, and even high schools. Rockwell Automation, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman, for example, run summer internship programs for high-schoolers.
Engage with schools at the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines for sure, but don’t ignore other areas such as communications, healthcare, and retail.
Many IoT jobs can be performed remotely, so don’t be tied in to an arbitrary geographical location, or rigid working hours. Smart devices, accessible technologies, collaboration tools and ubiquitous broadband can also open up vast untapped talent pools. For example, roughly a billion people in the world have disabilities that prevent them from coming into the office. An inclusive, accessible approach will bring you a greater range of qualified candidates while broadening participation in the IoT-led economy.
Finally, build relationships.
Engage early and comprehensively with schools, veterans groups and industry organizations. Sponsor research, offer internships, and initiate joint projects. Consider co-developing curricula with these institutions. If you need more data scientists, partner with a college to develop such classes, then sponsor them. Be creative. Look at the example of Siemens, which needed more mechatronics experts in its North Carolina facility. So it partnered with a local community college to create a unique four-year apprenticeship program combining on-the-job training with a structured curriculum.
The good news is that the industry is coming together to address the shortage of skilled IoT workers. Cisco, Rockwell, GE and several other organizations have formed the IoT Talent Consortium—a nonprofit organization dedicated to preparing the first generation of IoT-ready workers. The New Manufacturing Alliance, funded by member companies in Wisconsin, helps fill the skills gap through educational partnerships with schools, offering scholarships and grants to students at technical schools.
And while you may be focusing on developing new skills in your existing workforce and finding new workers with IoT skills, don’t forget the valuable expertise of your long-term employees, who provide a legacy of institutional knowledge, history, and context.
My father-in-law, as I said was one of those solid long-term employees. He accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience during the years he worked at the steel plant. When he retired, the company asked him to continue as a consultant, even as new generations of managers implemented automated IoT processes. Why? Because he had a depth of practical expertise the company couldn’t afford to lose. So they tapped into his experience as the foundation of its automated decision systems.
Developing an IoT-enabled workforce is not an option—it is a must. You could implement IoT solutions and integrate them with your business processes, but if your workforce is not ready (in terms of both skill and culture), your IoT transformation will fail.
If you focus on developing new skills while preserving legacy expertise, you will soon have a workforce ready to take on the dynamic challenges of the IoT economy. Next time, we’ll take a closer look at this new economy, characterized by collaboration, cooperation, co-development, co-innovation, and co-support. I call it the co-economy, and it’s the perfect fit for Generation IoT.