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Creative workers future of manufacturing, alliance leader says

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Oklahoma is close to experiencing a generational gap in the manufacturing sector, with more than 20,000 unfilled jobs over the next five years, said Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance President Dave Rowland.

The problem, he told members of the Oklahoma City Rotary Club on Tuesday, is that Oklahoma's demographics won't fill the gap. Manufacturing companies instead will have to rely more on technology to stay competitive.

Like the industry nationwide, companies in the state must embrace several 21st century trends, like automation, cybersecurity and robotics.

"We're not going to have enough workers to traditional manufacturing jobs," Rowland said. "These robots are going to help us fill those positions and free up our workforce to be much more skilled, more creative, more problem-solving."

Instead of the more hands-on kind of manufacturing jobs that most people imagine, workers of the future will be the kind of people who design workflows for automated machines.

"There's no way we can keep up without artificial intelligence, some sort of robotics, some sort of automation," he said. "When we look at our 3,500 manufacturers, we have an obligation to not only make them aware of these technologies, but how to apply that and use them in their own facilities."

To that end, the OMA and its partners are visiting both manufacturing companies and state schools. It's a dual-pronged approach that Rowland hopes will keep Oklahoma on the cutting edge. Companies need more students interested in the manufacturing trade, but there's a misconception about what happens in the industry now.

"Not only have we seen a rapid change in our manufacturing employment and entity situation, we've seen an unprecedented change in manufacturing in the rate of technology," he said, describing the ancestry of modern manufacturing techniques.

It's now the fourth phase of manufacturing evolution, he said, well past processes that rely on steam, electricity and simple computers to make products. Manufacturing leaders must now focus on artificial intelligence and robotics that work closely with humans.

Dale Denwalt

Dale Denwalt has closely followed state policy and politics since his first internship as an Oklahoma Capitol reporter in 2006. He graduated from Northeastern State University in his hometown of Tahlequah. Denwalt worked as a news reporter in... Read more ›

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