"Upskilling" to mind the IoT skills gap

Aug. 23, 2016
Everyone knows the skills gap is happening, but getting teams to work together is the first step (and the first challenge).
Dan McGrath joins a panel session titled “Bridging the Industrial IoT Skills Gaps
at the Smart Industry 2016 conference. Today the product-line manager with Panduit chats with us about “upskilling,” finding resources to address personnel shortages, and IT/OT alignment. Take a look…

Smart Industry: Why is there a shortage of skilled workers in this field?

Dan: Industry is undergoing a rapid change right now with the retiring of the baby boomer population, new tech-savvy millennials coming onboard and the urgent need to update and transform operations with digitization strategies for the Internet of Things (IoT). For many manufacturers, the challenge is finding qualified staff to design, deploy and maintain modern industrial networks. This need to upskill in networking technologies is critical to ensuring the security and performance of plant operations and for driving innovation and business transformation with the IoT. This is not just about IT staff; the whole ecosystem of plant engineers, system integrators, machine builders, maintenance and IT must be more conversant in industrial-networking technologies to make this happen.

Smart Industry: What are the solutions to bridging this gap? 

Dan: Finding new employees with all the right skills can be challenging. As a result, many companies are looking to train the talent that they currently have. Training employees on IP networks, security, wireless, mobility and video can help fill the knowledge gaps between IT and OT.

Smart Industry: What elements of IT/OT convergence encourage you?

Dan: It’s encouraging to see so many organizations taking the skills gap seriously. It’s not just a talking point anymore—it’s a real problem on the plant floor. In the US, the average age of a highly skilled manufacturing worker is 56. Industrial operations have unfilled jobs because there aren’t enough skilled workers available to replace retirees.

Companies are teaming up to create training programs to ease convergence. One such coalition is Industrial IP Advantage, which launched its network-design eLearning program last year. Experts from Cisco, Panduit and Rockwell Automation partnered to create courses to meet the skills gap and emerging needs of control engineers and IT professionals tasked with deploying secure network architectures. Rockwell Automation and Cisco have also developed an Industrial Networking Certification program with contributions from Panduit.

Other industry initiatives, such as the IoT Talent Consortium, are popping up to provide education and resources for IoT professional qualifications, career development and talent acquisition.

Smart Industry: What are the greatest challenges related to IT/OT convergence? 

Dan: Everyone knows the skills gap is happening, but getting teams to work together is the first step (and the first challenge). It can be hard to get teams to face the inevitable industry change and acknowledge that IT/OT alignment is an issue that needs to be addressed. True collaboration happens when team members embrace each other’s’ skills.

IT and OT have traditionally used their own technologies and approaches for meeting different goals. Moving past that siloed approach and sharing knowledge is another challenge. Training programs are responding and adjusting to meet the needs of both groups as their functions increasingly become entwined on the plant floor.

Smart Industry: What skill sets does the new generation of IoT developers need? 

Dan: Designing high-value, IoT-ready network architectures requires skills and knowledge in a number of key areas. While each company’s application is unique, all professionals responsible for deploying scalable, end-to-end network infrastructures should understand key fundamental areas of industrial network design including EtherNet/IP, physical infrastructure, security, wireless, virtualization, mobility and remote access. These topics, plus a number of other resources, are covered in the Industrial IP Advantage eLearning courses.

Smart Industry: Describe your role with the Industrial IP Advantage community? 

Dan: My company Panduit, along with Rockwell Automation and Cisco, formed the Industrial IP Advantage coalition in 2013 to provide educational resources on standard, unmodified Ethernet and Internet Protocol along with the leading open industrial Ethernet standard, EtherNet/IP. The resources on our website contain thought-leadership articles, how-to guides, case studies, and other tools to help chart the course to IoT value-creation using IP connectivity. I lead Panduit’s efforts with this coalition to bring focus to physical infrastructure’s role in simplifying robust industrial network and IoT. 

The coalition is proud to offer new web-based e-learning on industrial-network design with more than 30 modules available with a free demo. IT and OT engineers can learn design skills and industry best practices needed to help establish a robust, secure and future-ready IoT network. You can learn more here

Smart Industry: What excites you about the Smart Industry conference?

Dan: The Smart Industry conference is a great opportunity to network with experts and attend sessions on the promise and challenges of implementing the IIoT. The wide-ranging sessions focus on value that can be accomplished when vendors and customers partner.