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We clearly have a productivity problem in manufacturing, in part due to a lack of training and skills. As manufacturing becomes more complex and automated, it needs lots of skills other than those traditionally repetitive jobs that are being replaced. Could AI help solve this problem? AI may lead to a loss of jobs but we’re showing that AI can also help train in what jobs there are to increase productivity and help in training for new jobs. We’ve been creating online learning quickly and at low cost through WildFire.

Productivity puzzle
The manufacturing sector continues to struggle for productivity, despite growing levels of economic activity. Manufacturing productivity actually fell by 0.2 per cent in the third quarter of 2016, compared to 0.3 per cent growth in services. Many attribute this, at least partially, to low skills and training. As productivity growth seems to have stalled, technology offers a reboot, both in process and learning. Typically ‘basic goods’ manufacturing has been stuck with the rather basic use of technology. This is in stark contrast to ‘advanced manufacturing’ which has been eager to adopt advanced technology. Both, however, have been tardy in their use of technology to get knowledge and skills to their staff. They have both been far behind those in finance, healthcare, hospitality and other sectors. Understandably, learning in manufacturing has been largely classroom and learning by doing. Yet, as manufacturing becomes more complex, knowledge and skills has become ever more important.

One immediate way to increase productivity is through online learning. This has a double-dividend, in that it can save costs (travel, rooms, equipment and trainers) as well as increase productivity through better knowledge and skills. With access to mobile technology, learning can be delivered to distributed audience, even on the shop-floor. In addition, shift work and access to training in down-time and gaps in production, can also be achieved.

Manufacturing is often thought of as a sector not much involved in online learning. Several factors are at work here.

  1. Lots of SMEs without large training budgets
  2. Less likely to find a LMS to deliver content
  3. Less likely to find L&D aware of online learning
  4. Less access to devices for online learning
  5. Practical environment where factory floor training more prevalent.

To make online learning work there needs to be more awareness of why online learning can help as well as how it can be done.

What we did
First we focused on basic, generic training needs, and produced dozens of modules on:

  1. Manual handling
  2. Health and safety
  3. General Manufacturing Practice
  4. Language of manufacturing
  5. Gas Cylinders
  6. Product knowledge

These are largely knowledge-based modules that underpin practical training in the lab, workshop or factory floor. Bringing everyone up to a common standard really helps when it comes to practical, vocational training. You really should understand what is going on with the science of gas storage and use if you handle dangerous gases and want to weld safely. In addition we trained everyone from apprentices and administration staff to sales people.

To this end we produced modules quickly and cheaply using WildFire an AI service that takes any document, PowerPoint or video, and creates online learning in minutes not months. We have done this successfully in finance and healthcare but manufacturing posed different challenges.

  1. Much of the training is text heavy from manuals without any sophisticated use of images. That we solved through quick and low cost photo-shoots. Literally shooting to a shot list as the online modules had already been created.
  2. In not one case did we find a LMS (Learning management System), so we had to deliver from the WildFire server. This actually has one great advantage in that it freed us from the limitations of SCORM. We could gather oodles of data for monitoring and analysis.
  3. Doing this learning at any time allows learners to train in down time or at anytime 24/7.
  4. It means consistency.
  5. We could deliver to any service, especially mobile, which helped.

If we are to take productivity seriously in the UK we must realise that this means better training and therefore performance. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if AI helps increase productivity through online learning so that people can skill themselves into relevant employment? AI may automate parts of roles but it can also be used to skill for the newly created roles.