From education to employment

Artificial Intelligence and its impact on skills

Sharon Blyfield, Early Careers and Apprenticeship Lead GB and Nicholas Nixon, Director, Supply Chain Development

The current pandemic has seen organisations accelerating their investment in digital technology strategies to cope with new ways of working. It has also been an opportunity for businesses to rethink their manufacturing models and the skills required now and in the future.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) in manufacturing is a natural evolution of the current processes commonly found in automation. Many manufacturing lines being used within supply chains are already using algorithms that apply AI to determine optimum running sequences for lines. Additionally, allocating complex customer orders and logistics deliveries could use similar forms of algorithms.

How can AI benefit manufacturers?

The most significant opportunity that AI will bring for manufacturers is its ability to course-correct based on historical data and to take decisions based on available options.

To give an example – a production line is making a product, but an important quality parameter starts to deviate from the set limits. Currently, most processes would involve some sort of human intervention to make a change to the process. Sometimes, in a discrete machine, this can be done automatically, but usually it can’t be done across multiple machines across a production process.

We are used to experiencing alerts to a problem, but we have to use skill and human interaction, and sometimes memory, to predict if a problem is about to happen. It relies on someone remembering that event “A” can result in problem “B”, which is fine, in theory, if they also remember what the required solution is!

It’s in this context that we need to consider the skills which will be best suited to help apply this helpful advancement of technology.

Anticipating problems

We have often considered skills within narrow fields; mechanical, electrical, utility, automation and instrumentation, to give a few examples. These specific skills are certainly required within their respective areas, but collaborative engineering is needed above all to get the best out of AI – this sits above multiple specialities and – crucially – connects them together. It is therefore critical that new skills being taught and developed focus on connectivity of different processes through networks and automation, as well as very advanced problem-solving using data.

When we talk about problem-solving, we’re more accurately referring to ‘problem anticipation’ skills. Engineering apprentices and graduates alike are trained in using first principle thinking to solve problems when they arise. So, AI in Manufacturing will need people who actually don’t want to solve problems when they occur but are able to anticipate problems and work out what data inputs would be required, even if these are in different parts of the manufacturing process.

Training for the future

The government’s T-level initiatives – developed in collaboration with employers – will go some way to supporting the AI agenda for those who are still in education and the future workers of tomorrow. The launch of the T-level Digital Production, Design and Development pathway in September 2020 creates a framework for young people to become curious and explore. This will be supported by the Digital Business Services launching in September 2021 and the Engineering pathways in 2022, which should help to ensure that AI is at the heart of the technique learning required.

The upskilling and reskilling of staff will need to be accelerated to ensure that the current workforce can deal with the demands required of a digital and artificial world. Learning institutions should foster relationships with industry to see what has changed and adapt their programmes to meet these new requirements. This may also require reskilling staff who will deliver the programmes to encourage more progressive and forward-thinking learning. At our manufacturing site in East Kilbride, we have piloted a programme could Solutions Focused Approach a series of upskilling sessions with our employees to support the future skills required in this technologic era.

Within industry, investment in technical training will be vital to ensure that the skills required to operate in this artificial way are supported with the right level of specialism; but even more important will be the need to embrace and encourage cognitive skills, which include:

  1. Thinking
  2. Knowing
  3. Remembering
  4. Judging, and
  5. Problem-solving

These are all elements which will support the successful integration of AI into manufacturing businesses. It is these core human elements that will lie at the heart of successful AI.

Sharon Blyfield, Early Careers and Apprenticeship Lead GB and Nicholas Nixon, Director, Supply Chain Development

Sharon Blyfield has been in the business for 28 years in a variety of functions and roles. She joined the HR team 16 years ago, covering all elements of Supply Chain and now heading up the Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) Early Careers and Apprenticeship agenda for Great Britain.

Having spent the majority of her career developing young talent at the start of their careers, her current remit fits perfectly with her passion to create opportunities to support the next generation of young leaders. As part of her commitment, Sharon strives to work with strategic partners who challenge organisation’s approach to under representation of young people across all communities and works to create a level playing field in the recruitment process that might unconsciously deselect from those groups.

Nicholas Nixon has close to 20 years industry experience in FMCG. Starting his career with Unilever on their prestigious graduate training scheme, he led projects and operations across multiple categories and geographies before moving to the Middle East to lead a joint venture foods business as General Manager where he reshaped the company’s offering and brand reach. He returned to Europe working for Coca Cola Enterprises leading a turnaround of a plant in France, then in Great Britain before working on the SAP roll-out. Nick then went to lead the end-to-end Supply Chain in Saudi Arabia for a Pepsi Bottler where he radically transformed the network and cost position while commissioning the region’s largest beverage facility.

Nick returned to GB in his current role in mid-2019 leading the end-to-end Supply Chain Development as well as all the manufacturing facilities in Great Britain for Coca-Cola European Partners.

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