Industry 4.0 Talent & Technology Survey 2024

Industry 4.0 Talent & Technology Survey 2024 

Industry 4.0 Growing Need for Investment

With business largely stabilizing or improving since the COVID-19 pandemic, most manufacturing companies plan to increase their investment in Industry 4.0 technologies and the talent needed to support them. This survey, conducted by St. Norbert College from January through March 2024, shows that manufacturers already have adopted some Industry 4.0 to some degree, particularly cybersecurity and the rapidly evolving AI (artificial intelligence), yet planning for implementation of new technologies remains lacking.

The study, funded by Microsoft and led by Dr. Valerie Kretz, Interim Director of the Strategic Research Institute at St. Norbert College, includes responses from 72 Northeast Wisconsin industry leaders. This report highlights new findings for 2024 and compares results with previous findings from studies conducted in 2021 and 2019, with 66 and 104 respondents respectively. Respondents covered more than a dozen sectors in manufacturing in the region, with the top three responding sectors including Metal & Allied Products, Machinery and Paper & Allied Products. More than half (53%) of companies responding to the survey reported more than $30 million in sales annually. For respondents, the median number of employees was between 101 to 250.

Definition of Industry 4.0

For the purposes of this survey, Industry 4.0 is the transformation occurring in manufacturing to integrate digital technologies such as cloud computing and analytics, AI and machine learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) into production facilities and operations. It is characterized by improved efficiencies such as increased automation, predictive (proactive) maintenance, and self-optimized process improvements.

Industry 4.0: Planning for the Future

During the past five years, companies have increasingly proactive about adopting Industry 4.0 technologies and have become more engaged in developing Industry 4.0 plans. In 2019, 7% of companies reported having a complete plan for developing Industry 4.0. In 2024, that percentage grew to 15%. The creation of an Industry 4.0 Task Force by the NEW Manufacturing Alliance in 2019 has helped to increase awareness by sharing the latest technologies and their impact on organizations, as well as best practices, content experts and case studies. Additionally, companies are recognizing the importance of cybersecurity and the efficiencies offered by digital technologies like cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The NEW Manufacturing Alliance (NEWMA), working in partnership with Microsoft’s TechSpark program, created four different training programs in digital literacy, data analytics, project management and Generative AI. During a period of 3 years, more than 1,400 employees were upskilled in these critically important skills.  The data analytics, project management and Generative AI training utilized LinkedIn Learning, and the programs were supplemented by content experts who presented to students in live Lunch & Learn webinars. Participants also were required to do a capstone project. For the digital literacy training, NEWMA contracted with Goodwill Industries to offer a two-hour program to NEWMA member employees either at their company or at the Goodwill Industries site. This training was presented in both English and Spanish.

Current Investment in Technologies

Among the technologies under the umbrella of Industry 4.0, the vast majority of manufacturers have invested at least to some extent into Cybersecurity (94%). Most companies also have focused investment toward the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine/Digital Integration (83% each) as well as Cloud Computing (84%).

Investment in Cybersecurity increased from 83% of Northeast Wisconsin manufacturers in 2019 to 94% in 2024, slightly down from 97% seen in 2021. Industrial IoT (Internet of Things) saw a 20% increase in investment from 59% in 2019 to 83% in 2024. Companies also are looking at Generative AI, with 67% investing 2024—a relatively new technology and therefore a new question on the survey this year.

Technology Investment: Next 3 Years

More than half of Northeast Wisconsin manufacturers are planning to increase

or hold steady investments in Industry 4.0 technologies during the next three years. Areas of increased investment include Cybersecurity (70%), Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) (62%), Artificial Intelligence (58%), Cloud Computing (58%), Generative AI.

Growth in Industry 4.0 Over the Past 5 Years

Interest in increasing investment in Industry 4.0 technology has grown or fluctuated during the past five years. In 2019, for example, more than half (56%) of manufacturers expected to increase spending on Cybersecurity, but in 2024, 70% anticipated increases—down somewhat from 83% in 2021, largely because the addition of new Cybersecurity measures were implemented during the pandemic. Areas of Industry 4.0 where an increase of investment has continued to rise in 2024 include Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) (62%), Artificial Intelligence (58%) and Generative AI (57%).

Are manufacturing companies adopting the use of AI?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a rapidly proliferating tool that is being used by a growing number of companies and individuals. Among manufacturing company respondents, the use of AI is split about evenly. The evolving nature of the technology has created some uncertainty for some company leaders who have cited lack of expertise, complexity of integration and security concerns as reasons they haven’t yet adopted the tool.

Industry 4.0 Technologies Needed in the Future

During the next 2-3 years, Industry 4.0 technologies expected to have the greatest impact on manufacturing companies are 5G Wireless, Bluetooth, Mesh Networks or other connectivity technologies (51%). Manufacturers also expect in the same period that their companies will be impacted by Inventory Tech like RFID, GPS or Vision (41%), followed by Mobile Friendly User Interfaces (39%), Smart Energy Consumption (37%) and Predictive/AI Modeling Systems and Process Monitoring (34% each). Manufacturers expressed uncertainty regarding when certain technologies would have the greatest impact. They included Virtual/Augmented Reality (65%), Digital Twin & Simulation (61%), Facial Recognition (56%), Virtual Guided Equipment (54%), Cobots (54%), and 3D Printing— Additive Manufacturing (51%). More education is needed on when these technologies would best be integrated into the manufacturing industry.

Industry 4.0 Occupations Needed

In 2024, Project Managers are still a highly needed role for manufacturing companies, with 59% of respondents anticipating the need for this occupation to grow within the next three years. That demand was followed closely by Process Engineer (58%), AI Specialist (56%), Automation Technician (54%), Data Analyst (53%), Application Developer (53%) and IT Security Specialist (50%).

Filling New Roles

Many manufacturers anticipate filling Industry 4.0 roles in-house through upskilling and reskilling, though some positions were likely to be filled through new hires. For a Project Manager, 50% said they’d hire someone new and 39% said they would reskill someone in-house. Manufacturers also anticipate working with technical colleges and 4-year universities to help fill roles, using online and virtual third-party technology, hiring new employees and outsourcing to fill Industry 4.0 skill areas.

Working into the Future

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased the prevalence of remote work in the manufacturing industry, and to the extent that remote work has already been adopted, it’s here to stay. Non-frontline workers may continue to work remotely or within hybrid in-person and remote working situations, with 7 percent of companies planning to increase the availability of remote work for non-frontline workers within the next two years. Of manufacturing companies who responded to the survey, 14 percent plan to increase the availability of hybrid or split positions for remote and onsite work.


The adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies among manufacturing companies in Northeast Wisconsin is widespread and continuing to grow. With business considered stable and improving, investments in technology and skilled workers continue to increase across the region. However, there are mixed views and uncertainty about the value or implementation of certain technologies, including AI—a growth area with many potential applications. Cybersecurity in particular is of growing concern among all industries, and planning in this area is imperative.

Companies must continue to place a greater emphasis on diagnostics for assessing current and needed Industry 4.0 skills to know where and how to best fill these skilled roles. Workforce challenges will persist as Industry 4.0 technology evolves. Manufacturers also should continue working with workforce development and higher education to create certificate, diploma and degree programs to develop talent in new and upcoming Industry 4.0 technologies. The NEW Manufacturing Alliance will continue to focus on Industry 4.0 skills through its Task Force and by working with partners on upskilling related to new and emerging technologies like AI.