Digitalization driving surge in operational technology roles as firms tackle skills shortages

Tutor and student in front of monitors in ship's engine room simulator
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Digitalization could lead to a host of new operational technology (OT) jobs over the next three years, according to a report from Schneider Electric.

Analysis from the firm showed 45% of industrial organizations believe digital transformation will be a key driver to delivering new roles over the next three years, with seven-in-ten stating this will help reduce long-standing skills shortages.

A report from SCADAfence in 2022 found that 83% of organizations are contending with a significant shortage of trained OT workers, with not enough new workers being trained to meet growing demand.

"Digitalization doesn’t just benefit productivity and overall efficiency. It’s vital for solving some of the people-centric challenges facing industrial businesses," said Ali Haj Fraj, senior vice president, digital factory, industrial automation at Schneider Electric.

"There’s a real opportunity for industrial enterprises to optimize and enhance OT roles. By reducing the time spent on administrative tasks and enabling people to better fulfill their potential, we can solve many of the key challenges facing these businesses and help build a more sustainable future."

While talent acquisition was a key challenge for just over half of those surveyed, more than half said they're optimistic that this can be overcome, with only a quarter saying it still represented a major roadblock.

Six-in-ten believe OT roles will change in the next three years, and nearly three quarters reckon that much of this change will come through the implementation of new technologies, with quality control roles specifically highlighted as an area ripe for jobs growth.

Industrial companies also expect new skills to be needed in areas such as robotics programming and integration, with half stating they have insufficient skills in these domains.

Other skills areas expected to witness growth include data processing, visualization, and analytics, where more than three-in-ten say they have no or insufficient skills.

AI and digital twins unlocking new opportunities

Schneider Electric’s study showed that sustainability goals and advanced technologies, such as AI and digital twins, are becoming more embedded within the workforce. 

The research found that around half believe increasing requirements for industrial companies to meet environmental and social sustainability goals will require a 'significant extension' of existing job roles.


Whitepaper cover with two colleagues at workstations with one wearing headphones and reading, and digital IT icons behind them

(Image credit: Zscaler)

Distinguish the difference between file-based threats fact and fiction  


However, while the respondents said they are prioritizing investment in data processing, visualization, and analytics, robotics programming and integration is only a medium priority for almost half.

"The changing nature of the industrial workforce is, and will increasingly, necessitate investment in digitalization to empower staff and improve productivity and efficiency," said Alex West, senior principal analyst, industrial IoT and sustainability at Omdia, which carried out the survey.

"If they don’t, the broader and more serious longer-term impact will be on innovation and an inability to mitigate talent shortages."

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.