Industry 4.0 Revolution: Skills, Workplace—and Schools

Charting the future of Career & Technical Education with Graham Celine. 

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero


K-12 and community college leaders have had their hands full in responding to unprecedented challenges over the last few years. In trying to meet these challenges, they might not have kept up with some of the dramatic changes occurring within manufacturing and other key industries over this time. 

Automation was already transforming business processes across all sectors prior to the pandemic, COVID has tremendously accelerated the pace of change. 

In this EdTech Digest exclusive, Graham Celine, Vice President of Business Development for Intelitek, explains the impact the Industry 4.0 revolution is having on the skills needed in the workplace today—and how career and technical education (CTE) programs must adapt in kind.

What do you see as a growing need for high schools and community colleges as they put more emphasis on CTE program offerings?


I look at this question as, what are the biggest challenges they face? 

One is that CTE programs exist to fill industry needs, and so they must align with the requirements of local employers. School and college leaders should be looking at their local business landscape, whether they do that independently or with the help of their local business council. Look at local labor statistics and get a feel for what’s going on, which jobs are in high demand and what skills employers are looking for. If CTE programs aren’t teaching around the needs of the specific industries in their region, then they’re not doing the right thing.

Another key challenge is recruiting students and instructors. If schools and colleges can’t recruit students into CTE, then they can’t build their programs. If they don’t have highly qualified instructors, they’re not going to be able to satisfy their students. 

CTE is a really good career path, leading to a host of high-paying jobs. When is the last time anyone paid less than $160 to have a plumber make a house call? Part of the challenge for schools and colleges is making students aware that CTE not just a viable option, but a really good option.

So, make sure you’re teaching the right skills, and make sure you have someone who can teach these skills—as well as students to teach them to.

What should schools consider when building or expanding CTE offerings?

Students need long-term careers. When you’re building these offerings, look at what’s going to be attractive to students and will keep them employed for the long term. Consider the needs of employers not just now but also 10 or 20 years down the road. 

Ask yourself “Which is the more stable career option: becoming an Amazon driver or an Amazon technician?” Driving is subject to seasonal demands, and there is the possibility that these jobs could be replaced by drones or automated vehicles in the future. On the other hand, as automation continues to expand, there will always be a need for employees who can troubleshoot and fix the automated machinery, including the drones and the automated vehicles.

Another thing to consider is that students will need to learn how to teach themselves. Technology is changing so rapidly that employees will need to reskill many times during their careers, and so self-education is a critical ability. CTE programs must focus not only on the application of specific career skills through hands-on instruction, but also job readiness skills such as creative problem solving, critical thinking, initiative, and lifelong learning.

‘…students will need to learn how to teach themselves. Technology is changing so rapidly that employees will need to reskill many times during their careers, and so self-education is a critical ability.’

What is Industry 4.0, and why is it important?

The First Industrial Revolution introduced steam power to mechanize production. The Second pioneered the production line to create mass production. The Third used computers to automate production. Now, Industry 4.0 is building on the advancements of the Third Industrial Revolution by leveraging the Internet, Big Data, and the power of smart networks to bring automation to a whole new level.

In Industry 4.0, machines, devices, sensors, and people connect and communicate with each other in real-time through the Internet of Things. Advanced software and data analytics provide instantaneous analysis and visualization of the health and status of systems. AI allows systems to make decisions on their own and perform tasks as autonomously as possible.

The fundamental change within Industry 4.0 is that we’re bringing more automation, integration, and transparency into industrial processes. This has become a reality because of the confluence of new technologies that are now cost-effective.

For instance, we’ve had the Internet for many years, but now we’ve got 5G connectivity. This is important because 5G works well in a noisy manufacturing environment, whereas Wi-Fi hasn’t. Cybersecurity is now at a level where we trust to put sensitive data onto a wireless network, because we can secure it. We’ve now got computers that are so powerful, we can collect and analyze this data in real time. All of these technologies now work well enough to make this integrated, data-rich environment possible.

Industry 4.0 is hugely important, because it’s driving changes in the labor market and in the description of what a manufacturing employee is. A manufacturing worker isn’t necessarily going to work in overalls; they might work in a suit and tie. They’re going to need a level of education that wasn’t required from this profession before.

The implication for schools is that, where we once offshored manufacturing to get cheap labor, now we’re onshoring it because we need skilled labor. There has been an explosion in manufacturing jobs in the United States, and companies need skilled employees to meet this demand. 

Where are the biggest growth opportunities for career-ready students in manufacturing?

As the robotics used in manufacturing become increasingly advanced, companies need technicians who know how to maintain and troubleshoot these machines. As data is used to streamline production, manufacturers will need employees who can analyze digital information and use it to solve problems.

‘As data is used to streamline production, manufacturers will need employees who can analyze digital information and use it to solve problems.’

Manufacturers also need employees within logistics. We think of this as mainly Amazon, but really it’s hundreds of companies that are building warehouses and delivery mechanisms to support online trade and commerce. I was in Phoenix recently, and Dick’s Sporting Goods is building a massive warehouse there because they’re closing stores and selling more products online. These companies are hiring not only truck drivers and people to fulfill orders, but also workers to maintain their automated and robotic fulfillment systems.

Another area that is growing significantly in the U.S. right now is the semiconductor industry. One of the biggest supply chain issues we had during COVID was the breakdown in the supply of semiconductors. That led to delays in the supply of automobiles; car manufacturers couldn’t install automated systems in their vehicles because they were missing a chip. That drove a real push for the semiconductor market to move back to the United States. Between the CHIPS Act, tax breaks, and company investment, we’re talking about $500 billion being invested in semiconductor manufacturing now.

In summary – there are no shortages of opportunity, the shortage is in trained skilled labor. So, for schools there is ample room to create programs that will boast 100% post-graduation employment.

What is NIMS certification, and why is it important for CTE programs to be aligned?

Certifications or credentials are a big part of education. They provide more value for students, and they validate to employers that the recipient has the skills needed to be successful. 

There are many types of industry certifications and credentials available. We’ve picked the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) because it’s a completely independent, yet internationally recognized credentialing body. We don’t pay membership to NIMS; we have simply aligned our CTE curriculum offerings to NIMS credentials. 

Many of the other credentials that exist are vendor-specific, and they’re essentially tests. In contrast, NIMS is at the forefront of certification. They’ve created what they call “smart credentialing.” It’s role-focused certification, rather than just a test of someone’s knowledge. There is a hands-on component, but it’s very flexible. It can be defined by the school or by employers so that it matches the role they want the person to take. 

‘… “smart credentialing.” It’s role-focused certification, rather than just a test of someone’s knowledge. There is a hands-on component, but it’s very flexible. It can be defined by the school or by employers so that it matches the role they want the person to take.’

If you’re learning how to install a motor, for example, one factory may use AC motors and another may use DC motors. Schools and employers can define their hands-on performance measure to align with their specific needs, either AC or DC. The credential asks, “What do you want the person to be able to do?” and then creates a certification around that, so students know how to do what employers need.

What advice would you give schools for how they can build out successful CTE program for manufacturing?

Partner with local businesses and community organizations to understand their needs. Also, make your CTE programs as practical, hands-on, and multidisciplinary as possible.

We focus on what we call “capstone” projects, which integrate all of the different skills and technologies that students need to learn. For instance, our SmartCIM 4.0 system is a flexible Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) production scenario designed to teach all of the skills involved in running a production line within an Industry 4.0 environment.

SmartCIM includes mechanical systems, electrical systems, robotics, CNC machining, assembly, quality control, data collection with sensors, and software—all of the components of a production line working together. Students have to program the robot, configure the CNC machine, and manufacture parts. They’ve got to make this all work together. If the system stops working, they’ve got to troubleshoot it.

We have another capstone project called Smart Robotics, which integrates robotics, programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and a machine vision system. 

There is no such thing as a robot working by itself; a robot is always connected to other devices and processes. In a logistics environment, a robot might be programmed to move things. But to do so, the robot has to communicate with sensors that detect when there is something to move and to the PLC that moves the other pieces. Similarly, there is no such thing as a technician who only does one job anymore. The Smart Robotics capstone teaches all the components, and then how they all work together.

Having a multidisciplinary training like this is important because it helps students understand how all of these various aspects within manufacturing work together.

Can you share an example or two of successful CTE programs you’ve been involved with?

The Technology and Engineering Academy at Rich Township High School District in Illinois offers many career pathways, one of which is manufacturing. They installed our SmartCIM equipment so that students could learn about computer integrated manufacturing in an applied setting. 

Jackie Stone, division leader for the Technology and Engineering Academy program noted that it was ‘really awesome for students to see how the skills they’re learning are applied in the real world.’

Mike Wilson, an applied technology teacher for the program, shared that their students love engaging with the equipment. “We want our students to have the opportunity to set themselves apart. (This experience is) going to help our students get those jobs.”

This is a PLTW school, the local economic council secured funding to put in this advanced training program in a high school so that they will generate a solid feed of potential employees for local industry as well as students who want to continue to associate or engineering degrees related to manufacturing.

Edgecombe Community College (ECC) in North Carolina has also upgraded its manufacturing labs to meet the needs of local companies more effectively. In January 2020, ECC opened a new Center for Innovation on its Tarboro campus, providing high school and adult students with hands-on access to the newest technology and practices needed for local manufacturing plants. 

A hands-on CIM curriculum teaches students all aspects of the production cycle, from customer order and inventory control, through automated manufacturing, s, to quality inspection and final delivery of finished parts. ECC uses our advanced manufacturing training equipment and lessons, including an online curriculum that’s available to students 24-7.

What key trends are you watching? What’s coming down the line in the next few years for the manufacturing industry?

Everything we’re seeing is related to automation. In the end, integration and automation are becoming more prevalent. When I look at the math I learned in engineering school 30 years ago, my kids are learning that in middle school. The progress of learning is moving down the chain. STEM is now an elementary topic, and CTE is a middle and high school topic. 

We’re seeing the need for more and more qualified students in what used to be lower-level jobs. When I was talking with an executive from Intel recently, she told me: “We don’t need more engineers. We need more qualified technicians, because the definition of a technician has changed from 10 years ago.” A technician today is doing far more skilled work than ever before. And that’s where schools need to go.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:


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