The manufacturing industry is in the midst of a transformation so profound that analysts are calling it a new industrial revolution – the fourth one (“Industry 4.0”), if you’re keeping score. Robotics, sensors, data analytics, augmented reality and the Internet of Things are all turning old-style factory work into information work, requiring a workforce that is more educated and more adaptable than ever before.
Many of these technologies have been on the drawing board for decade, but they are now seeing adoption at scale because of the maturity and declining cost of necessary hardware and infrastructure. As costs drop, investment in capital equipment and software starts to look like a better strategy for manufacturers than outsourcing to low-wage suppliers. That is inverting the economic logic that has dominated the industry since the early 1990s and driving many overseas firms to rethink their strategies to remain competitive.
Vietnam has benefited significantly from outsourced manufacturing, but recently, government officials began sounding the alarm that the country’s industry leaders need to adapt or risk getting left behind. Speaking at Viet Nam Information and Communication Technology Outlook, Tran Anh Tuan, deputy chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Computer Association (HCA), warned that automation would eliminate many traditional jobs and change the way technology is deployed, creating a growth disparity between businesses.
“The application of Industry 4.0 is a process, requiring businesses to spend time to study, invest long-term and gradually automate their production, payment and services,” said Tuan. “If businesses merely run after trends without systematically building operation processes, they would get no competitive edge.”
Building new business processes and implementing high-tech systems in factories is a far cry from semi-skilled work on an assembly line. Experts say that the manufacturing workforce of the 21st century needs to work in harmony with smart new technology, and that everyone from operations executives to floor supervisors need to adapt to a more rapid tempo of change and disruption than has historically been the case in such a structured industry.
Those conversations about innovation, technology and competitive practices increasingly take place in English, the global language of science and engineering. As manufacturers retool their assembly lines, they should also think about retooling their workforce skills, making sure everyone in the organization has a fundamental grounding in the Business English they need to stay relevant and competitive in a fast-changing market.