From the digitalization of manufacturing to the transition to clean energy, the global economy is evolving at an unprecedented pace.
In some industries, such as solar energy and electric vehicle (EV) battery production, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions on supply chain logistics is driving the re-shoring of manufacturing back to the Western hemisphere.
However, a persistent challenge businesses face worldwide is the shortage of qualified talent to fill these roles.
One way to bridge the skills gap is to leverage the power of AI to identify, attract, nurture, and harness talent.
Using AI to Fill Skills Gaps
While there are concerns about the potential for AI to replace jobs, it has a vital role to play in filling skills shortages and attracting talented employees looking to work for innovative employers.
In the US solar energy market, government incentives are expected to contribute to a fivefold expansion in the industry over the next decade, as policy supports the establishment of a domestic supply chain to facilitate carbon emissions reduction.
But at the same time, 44% of US industry employers in the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC)’s 2022 Solar Jobs Census said it was “very difficult” to find qualified applicants—the highest percentage ever recorded.
AI can help to solve this problem by “using predictive tools to identify top prospects, enable sales teams with design tools, and improve design efficiencies with automation”, according to a report from solar design software firm Aurora Solar. Software that creates designs for solar power installations can use automation and ML within the application to augment solar installers’ ability to generate 3D models, design and simulate systems, and evaluate battery storage.
Such software can give designers a head start in designing models for complex rooftops or large ground-mounted solar parks. This does not replace humans but gives them a tool to simplify and streamline their workflows, enabling lead generation, providing substantial time savings, and generating a first draft for the design process.
“We continue to recommend that all Aurora AI designs be checked by a human before going to permitting,” the company states.
In the EV industry, Chinese manufacturers took the lead in producing vehicles and developing battery technology for export. As supply chain disruptions and tensions with China and Russia have increased in recent years, demand for batteries and EVs produced in Europe at supplier facilities located close to their customers has grown, and European manufacturers are attempting to catch up.
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AI has an important role to play in the design, construction, and operation of European battery gigafactories and EV plants to compete, said Taavi Madiberk, chief executive officer (CEO) of energy storage firm Skeleton Technologies, at the recent Future Battery Forum in Berlin.
“The reality is that if in Europe we want to be competitive, we need to be more efficient in cell production. It’s not enough that we do the same as in China and be better at that; we need to look at the whole shebang.”
AI can contribute to process optimization in manufacturing electrodes for batteries, finding correlations and patterns in the data and determining what type of process parameters to optimize. It can also assist with preventative maintenance by understanding the numbers better to detect issues early, Madiberk said.
“For electrode production, we are able to find correlations and calculations which the human eye cannot detect. These things allow us in the next five years to go after almost 90% cost reduction.”
“It’s all about data. If you have a huge amount of data, you need artificial intelligence to analyze the data,” said Guido Feind, Head of Siemens Digital Industries Germany.
“Our teams are pre-training the algorithms that we can use and to increase the quality… In our factory in Hamburg, we analyze 50 million pieces of data a day to improve the quality.
“And this is very important because we were able over the last ten years to double our outcome with the same footprint and with the same amount of people. And that’s the power of data, and that’s the power of artificial intelligence.”
The shift in supply chain dynamics, geopolitical considerations, and the increase in carbon emissions reduction requirements in Europe have created scope for European manufacturers to compete on factors other than cost, argued Gilles Normand, President of battery maker ProLogium Europe.
“I could see a scenario where globalization is over, and we go back to super regionalization. So, production in Europe for Europe, US for US… Now there is a huge amount of public money, either from the US or from Europe, to level the field.
“In the future, even though Asia will retain significant cost competitiveness, maybe the competitiveness will no longer be measured by cost but by CO2 or other elements.”
This creates opportunities for AI-driven innovation and nurtures European engineering talent to build and operate manufacturing facilities.
“It’s no surprise Asia is in the lead because they started quite early,” said Nicolas Steinbacher, Program Lead and Senior Strategy Director at battery manufacturer Northvolt.” But I think we often underestimate the potential Europe has— we have fantastic engineers working in the best industries already.”
Identifying and Harnessing Tech Talent
AI can play an important role not only in optimizing manufacturing processes but also in the hiring and retention of skilled employees.
Traditional recruitment methods that rely on resumes and interviews may not provide a comprehensive understanding of a candidate’s capabilities, particularly when the knowledge and skills required to interact with AI are different from the requirements for roles in the past.
Additionally, AI-based talent marketplaces allow businesses to access a diverse pool of workers who may have the required skills to fill the gaps and reach their goals.
AI-powered hiring tools can analyze a candidate’s digital footprint to assess their practical skills and knowledge. ML algorithms can also analyze data from a company’s successful hires to identify common patterns and traits among high-performing employees. This can help to find the candidates with the most potential to excel.
To effectively address skills shortages, businesses need to nurture talent by creating an environment that encourages continuous learning and growth. Once an employee is onboard, AI can be used in personalized learning and development programs.
For instance, adaptive AI-powered learning platforms can tailor content to an individual employee’s strengths and weaknesses, ensuring that they receive targeted training to fill specific skill gaps.
AI can also facilitate effective mentorship programs by matching experienced tech professionals with emerging talent based on their skills, goals, and personality traits.
Virtual platforms allow mentors to provide ongoing guidance and support even if they are in a different location, fostering a collaborative environment that accelerates skill development and helps retain employees.
AI-powered performance analytics tools can provide employees with real-time feedback, helping employees understand their strengths and areas for improvement while enabling employers to make informed decisions about the types of investments in training and skills development that would be most appropriate for their workforce.
As the demand for tech talent continues to rise, AI can play a key role in addressing skills shortages. AI can help optimize processes in businesses that cannot find the workers they need and help drive innovation in industries such as solar energy and electric vehicle manufacturing to make companies competitive globally.
By leveraging AI to identify and train talent, businesses can bridge the skills gap and create a continuous learning and innovation culture. As the digitalization and automation of industrial processes evolve, the collaboration between human expertise and AI will be vital to building a thriving workforce.