5 Trends that Will Change the Skilled Trades Industry
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Technology has changed the future of the workforce, from keeping employees safer to making jobs more technically advanced. Skilled trades jobs are no exception.
Recently, we attended FABTECH, North America's largest fabrication and manufacturing exhibition, to get the scoop on the latest industry trends. Here's what to watch for now and next year.
1. Robotics & artificial intelligence
Industrial robots have been around for several decades, but they're gaining momentum, and you could learn how to use them in your skilled trades job. The World Robotics 2020 Industrial Robots report counted 2.7 million industrial robots globally. Many modern robots use artificial intelligence (AI), meaning they make decisions to solve problems.
Robots could help keep workers safer by taking on dangerous jobs or repetitive tasks that lead to wear and tear on the body. They can also create opportunities for employees to take on higher-level positions.
Keith Otterstatter, director of operations at powersport vehicle manufacturer Polaris, credited a combo of AI and human ingenuity to success. At Polaris, AI-powered vision sensors ensure that parts are fastened and assembled correctly. Meanwhile, the employees monitor robots and AI systems. Otterstatter said employees serve as "in-house experts," finding improvements for a better, more efficient process.
The coronavirus pandemic shifted business online, forcing what's been called digital transformation. Digital transformation or digitization means using online or cloud-based software to store and analyze data to make business decisions. You're probably familiar with some examples, including online shopping and ordering from restaurants. Increasingly, manufacturers are digitizing too.
Angi, an online marketplace for home repairs and renovations, reported widespread adoption of digital tools among pros in the building trades in their 2021 Skilled Trades in America survey:
- 39% added tools for customer quotes
- 42% added planning tools
- 47% adopted digital payments
With these new tools, employers want to hire workers who excel at their trade and show curiosity in using data to improve processes.
"There are a lot of opportunities for people developing new-school STEM skills," Jon Sobel of manufacturing data platform Sight Machine said in a FABTECH Tech Talk. "Companies are looking for people they're confident can handle the newer technologies. Companies will invest in people who show an interest in that."
3. 3D Printing
Known in the industry as "additive manufacturing," 3D printing is changing the manufacturing game. It even had its own multi-day showcase event at FABTECH.
Conventional manufacturing starts with a material and cuts away until a part is formed. 3D printing creates something from nothing, layering on thin streams of plastic or metal.
Additive manufacturing takes a hefty investment. That's why it's commonly used today in healthcare applications — like prosthetics and PPE — where the upfront cost can reap life-changing rewards.
In the future, additive manufacturing may help counteract ongoing supply chain disruptions — like the ones caused by COVID-19 — because manufacturers can make their own parts rather than wait for building materials.
4. Virtual reality in training
Becoming a welder takes plenty of hands-on training and years of experience to master the many different types of welds, from basic techniques to advanced ones — and even underwater welding. Now, welding students can supplement their hands-on training with virtual reality (VR).
VR simulators allow vocational and trade school students to get familiar with welding techniques without wasting metal. Not only that, the simulators collect data on your accuracy and speed, giving students real-time data to react to and improve.
5. Workplace flexibility
When the pandemic-related closures went into effect, virtually any job that could be done remotely was. But what does this mean for jobs in trades that don't allow for working from home?
William LaRue of Tru-Fab Co. Metal/TFC Inc, a FABTECH speaker and Gen Z member, believes employers will need to find creative ways to offer workers flexibility if they want to recruit younger generations to the trades.
He offered examples of more flexible working arrangements, including:
- Split shifts — where two people cut a long shift in half.
- Flexible paid-time-off
- Swappable shifts — allowing and encouraging workers to trade work hours so they can cut back on hours or take on more if they want.
If you're committed to finding a position that allows you to work from home, don't miss our guide to find a remote job.
Consider a job in the skilled trades
The trades are evolving — changing alongside technological and societal advances. There's always more to learn, whether you're starting your training or climbing to the top of your trade.
The skilled trades are long-term careers with great benefits, fulfilling work, and high salaries — and they're looking for people like you every day. Consider one of these great opportunities in the skilled trades:
- Learn how to become a contractor
- Learn how to become an electrician
- Learn how to become an HVAC technician
- Learn how to become a plumber
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