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The New Collar Workforce

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

Text BoxIndustry 4.0 

There's a global "upheaval" going on in manufacturing "using advanced sensors, feedback loops, generative design, automation, robots, the Internet of Things (IoT) and a myriad of other new tools that integrate digital, biological and physical worlds," Some are calling this the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" or Industry 4.0. Sarah Boisvert explores this new world and the entrepreneurial and work force characteristics that are needed to operate within Industry 4.0 in her new book, "The New Collar Workforce." Our work and the way we combine Fab Lab ICC with entrepreneurship is featured.  

A simple example of 4.0 is a liquid bottling factory in a company that offers, say, custom drinks to customers. The customer selects the custom ingredients through an Internet form. A radio frequency (RF) chip is generated for each bottle of drink in the customer order, containing the instructions for making the custom drinks. As the bottles go through the automated production system, along with the bottles for custom drinks of all the other customer orders, various machines read the RF chips to determine what and how much of each ingredient to add to fulfill the customer orders. To each bottle is attached a custom label, perhaps personalized for each particular customer. 

Industry 4.0 Means Customization 

In 4.0, instead of making 1,000 bottles of the same drink to have in inventory, followed by 1,000 bottles of the next drink, drinks are custom-made for each customer. Factory workers don't have to touch the bottles too much as everything is automated and the machines all talk to each other using the Internet. Everything will be fine until something goes wrong, and it will. The factory workers in 4.0 will need to be problem solvers that can figure out what went wrong and fix it. The quicker the workers in 4.0 can analyze and fix things, the more valuable they will be to the company and the more fulfilled they will be in their work. 

Number 1 Skill Needed is Problem Solving 

Boisvert did a study in 2016 of 200 manufacturers, ranging from large multi-nationals to small start-ups, all making a wide variety of both high and low-tech products. Even before all have entered the world of Industry 4.0, the unequivocal number 1 skill wanted by 95% of the employers interviewed is the ability to solve problems. Coming in at number two is the ability to work with their hands. It sounds exactly like what goes on at Fab Lab ICC. People learn to solve problems that come up in making projects and most of the projects involve a combination of digital technology and work with hand tools. 

Fab Force Creates Problem Solvers 

When lab manager, Tim Haynes and I started talking about a new kind of work force training about a year ago, I don't think we knew of the term Industry 4.0, but we did see big changes coming in the way customer orders are fulfilled. We also saw a disconnect between what skills would be required in that new world and the one-sided training approach by many traditional work force programs. Tim coined the phrase "Fab Force" to mean a new way to give people an introduction to the many disciplines needed in this new world. The disciplines are introduced by project based experiential learning methods that naturally create problem solvers that can work with their hands. 

We believe that problem solving and "hand" skills will be needed by entrepreneurs and small business owners as well as the factory employees. Indeed, factory companies will be using more and more contract entrepreneurs to accomplish the work they need to do. 

Today, we are moving forward with our Fab Force curriculum that will include a core of coursework to facilitate problem solving and communication skills along with a buffet of technical classes in several disciplines. The idea is that creating the basic problem solving, "hand" skills and a variety of introductory technical skills will set the stage for learning that will be required of all entrepreneurs and factory workers. Fab Force is set to launch next fall. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  

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