How the Augmented Operator can attract new generations to the industrial workforce

Frontier technologies can augment the role of the operator to be more immersive, intuitive and impactful, attracting digitally native generations into the future workforce. The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and data with advanced analytics can transform operational management to better reflect the characteristics, talents, and expectations of upcoming generations.

With increasing competition for skilled workers and an aging workforce, industrial asset managers must think out of the box when it comes to attracting the best and brightest from the upcoming labour pool. This will soon consist of Generation Z and then Generation Alpha. These demographics are characterised as being ‘digital natives’ because they were born after the invention of the internet. They’re said to be always online, fliting between apps, social media feeds and personalised online content.

Bearing this in mind, to attract these generations into the industrial workforce, operators should look to evolve – and augment – the operator role to reflect their inherent abilities and everyday experiences. This can be achieved by the continuing shift of modern control systems, such as ABB’s Ability System 800xA, towards increased automation and data use, to harness new and emerging technologies, such as AI, machine learning and advanced analytics.

Further integration of cutting-edge technologies such as these can shift the operator’s role away from simply maintaining high productivity and stable operations, which is what happens today, to a more immersive, digitally enhanced, and rewarding experience. This can include:
- Freeing up operators time for more meaningful work such as using data and advanced analytics to optimise processes for energy efficiency and carbon emission savings.
- Enabling early warning of potential failure with AI-powered systems that can use real and historic data to offer troubleshooting solutions, much like a virtual assistant.
- Workflow simulation to check outcomes and for training and augmented reality (AR) headsets to access experts working offsite.

Augmenting the role of the operator in this way will appeal to a generation that expects to have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, are used to working with intelligent digital systems and rank job satisfaction alongside salary.  What’s more, they will also help personnel train and maintain skills, provide earlier failure warnings, and increasingly efficient operations to achieve overall performance excellence.

The next step to achieve this reality is to fuse together the Distributed Control Systems', operations technology and real-time control system with the Edge and newer IT technology, such as machine learning and AI. As well as incorporating historical data and the mining of other data sources for pattern recognition and knowledge extraction. This will shift the automation system beyond only real time control to one that allows the operator to augment operations from day-to-day. It will be a journey, but humans working with technological systems to augment their cognitive capabilities can amplify their potential and provide huge value to both the workforce and the industry at large – as well as attract new generations to the sector.

Harness new and emerging technologies, such as AI, machine learning and advanced analytics


Integration of cutting-edge technologies will shift the operator’s role away from simply maintaining high productivity and stable operations, to a more immersive, digitally enhanced, and rewarding experience. 

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