Summary

The majority of assemblers are employed in manufacturing, industries such as food, drink and tobacco; rubber/non-metal mineral products; textiles, clothing & leather; basic metals & metal products; wholesale and retail trade; wood, paper, print, publishing; and motor vehicles.

Key facts:

  • The majority of assemblers are employed in manufacturing, industries such as food, drink and tobacco; rubber/non-metal mineral products; textiles, clothing & leather; basic metals & metal products; wholesale and retail trade; wood, paper, print, publishing; and motor vehicles.
  • The five key skills for assemblers are teamwork, learning, problem solving, job-specific skills and communication.
  • From 2005-2015, employment in the assemblers occupational group fell by about 25%. In the following decade there may be a partial reversal in this trend.
  • They are a shortage occupation in three EU Member States, while two EU countries report them as a surplus occupation.
  • In 2015, 64% of assemblers had medium-level qualifications, and only 7% had high-level qualifications. Between 2015 and 2025, the share of low- and medium-level qualified assemblers is expected to decline slightly, while the share of high-qualified assemblers is likely to rise up to about 11%.

Who are they?

Assemblers [1] are a relatively homogenous group of workers who assemble prefabricated parts or components to form subassemblies, products and equipment, according to strict procedures. The two main subgroups are; mechanical machinery assemblers and electrical and electronic equipment assemblers.

Tasks performed usually include: assembling components into various types of products and equipment; reviewing work orders, specifications, diagrams and drawings to determine materials needed and assembly instructions; recording production and operational data on specified forms; inspecting and testing completed components and assemblies and wiring installations and circuits; rejecting faulty assemblies and components.

What skills do they need?

According to Cedefop’s European skills and jobs survey (ESJS), the key 5 skills for assemblers are teamwork, learning, problem solving, job-specific skills and communication. These skills could support employees in this occupation to also tackle anticipated future skill challenges (see drivers of change below).

Figure 1: Most important skills required for assemblers

Where are they mostly in demand?

The labour market dynamics for this occupation differ across EU Member States:

Figure 2: Shortages and surpluses for assemblers across the EU

According to Cedefop, assemblers are highly demanded (i.e. they are in shortage) in Hungary, Lithuania and the Netherlands. Nonetheless a surplus appears in the Spanish and French labour market.

From 2005-2015, employment in the assemblers occupational group fell by about 25%. In the following decade there may be a partial reversal in this trend. Combined with replacement demand for vacated jobs, total employment needs for assemblers, between 2015-2025, may reach more than 800 thousands of persons.

In 2015, 64% of assemblers had medium-level qualifications, and only 7% had high-level qualifications. Between 2015 and 2025, the share of low- and medium-level qualified assemblers is expected to decline slightly, while the share of high-qualified assemblers is likely to rise up to about 11%.

The majority of assemblers are employed in manufacturing, industries such as food, drink and tobacco; rubber/non-metal mineral products; textiles, clothing & leather; basic metals & metal products; wholesale and retail trade; wood, paper, print, publishing; and motor vehicles.

More information on employment trends and other characteristics of assemblers can be found in the Skills Panorama here.

Which drivers of change will affect their skills?

Significant changes already take place in the large employers/sectors of assemblers, which means assemblers heavily rely on developments in manufacturing, ranging from production modes, value chains, new organisational structures and, of course, technological advancements. In turn, their job tasks and skills are expected to change. Drivers that affect all sectors, such as restructuring of value chains [3] inevitably affect assemblers as well, since their job tasks depend on the nature and way of production of the assembled product.

  • Production modes and characteristics of several types of products change to accommodate shifts in consumer demand for niche and customised products. At the same time, strong rise in demand for sustainable products and eco-design [4] also affects production modes and the use new materials and machines. Assemblers will subsequently need skills to handle these new materials and corresponding machine operations. Moreover, the emphasis on reducing the material waste and increasing the efficiency of the production process (e.g. the supply-circle management [5]) lead to improvements in monitoring and quality control. Assemblers responsible for such parts of the production will inevitably need relevant skills and competences [6].
  • Advances in technology are already reshaping manufacturing (for example, see the Skills Panorama analytical highlight on advanced manufacturing) in terms of the structures of value and supply chains, organisations, as well as spreading the automation of production, logistics etc.

Automation could be perceived as the key driver of changes in assemblers’ employment and skills, as greater use of computer-controlling machines may reduce the number of their jobs or the change their job tasks. Some assembler jobs could be threatened by further factory automation, as already there are examples of two-armed robots working as assemblers[7]. Redefining their role, automation and digitalisation overall could require assemblers to move into roles of technicians or machine operators. Others may need to engage into more customer service and design roles as one-off, customised goods become more readily available.[8] In such cases, software and programming skills (e.g. in 3-D printing and rapid prototyping) will be needed. [9]

  • Trends like technology advancements, trade globalisation coupled with outsourcing and off-shoring of some EU manufacturing industries change business models, value chain composition or social partners’ relations. For example, the automotive industry [10] has already responded to increasingly interdisciplinary technological advancements by engulfing stronger cross-disciplinary and inter-sectoral collaboration. Automotive assemblers rely more heavily on partners that provide supporting technologies and services. Clustering and new forms of public-private partnerships transcend new ways of collaborating, transmitting knowledge across sectors; in turn, assemblers could be faced with a broader set of collaborators/providers, highlighting the need for understanding other sectors, cross-sectoral working, team spirit, communication skills, critical thinking, problem solving, and effective working under pressure). [11]

How can these skill needs be met?

The need for broader and/or more specialised skills is reflected in the expected increase of highly skilled assemblers. Therefore, prospective assemblers will benefit by seeking to gain technical skills and qualifications through VET pathways, such as apprenticeships. An example of the type of teaching offered in an apprenticeship programme for electronic equipment assemblers can be found below:

Apprenticeship programme for electronic equipment assembler

Teaching sequence

  • Solid basic training in electrical laboratory and in the training workshop
  • Manufacturing of electronic and electrical components in the production departments
  • Building and wiring of switch cabinets
  • Build up basic training with a part exam at the end of the 2nd year of training
  • Commissioning of conventional cylindrical grinding machines
  • Priority training in various fields
  • Apprenticeship examination in the selected area

Courses during the teaching

  • Soldering
  • Programming SPS (programmable logic controller)
  • Basic course on grinding

Source: https://www.berufsbildung.studer.com/de/lehrberufe/automatikmonteurin-efz.html

The skill needs implied by the abovementioned drivers stress the importance of upskilling assemblers already in employment, to keep them informed of technological changes and improve their and their employers’ productivity [12]. As many employees will be working on a greater variety of tasks, especially in manufacturing, (re)training would preferably include a broader set of skills than the only job-specific ones. Employers will also benefit by developing and supporting positive organisational culture towards change, to facilitate the adoption of new processes, and the respective adjustment of tasks and skills [13].

Adult learning and training opportunities can ensure that workers, especially those with low-level qualifications, remain marketable. This is particularly relevant with regard to soft skills: given the practice of working across different sectors, and the prospect of specialisation in more niche and customised products, assemblers are needed who are more team-oriented and more communicative, both in oral and written communication [14].

References

[1] Defined as ISCO 08 group 82 Assemblers. ILO, (2012), International Standard Classification of Occupations ISCO-08. More information on the occupation can be found here.

[2] All figures from 2016 Cedefop forecast except where stated.

[3] Value chains are being restructured across sectors, due to numerous reasons: globalisation can be identified as the most important one: value chains are becoming more global, which affects how companies are structured, who are their partners and suppliers; the liberalisation of international trade and the continuous developments in ICT are also one of the drivers that allow companies to ‘re-think what activities will be organised where and under which organisational configurations’ (Ramioul, M 2007, Global Restructuring of Value Chains and the Effects on the Employment, Technikfolgenabschätzung – Theorie und Praxis Nr. 2, 16. Jg.); changing consumer demands, for example, towards using environmentally responsible production processes and resources also affect how products are developed as well as the organisational structure (for example, see developments in the steel industry).

[4] European Commission, (2012), Ecodesign Your Future – How eco-design can help the environment by making products smarter

[5] Mohr, S., Somers, K., Swartz, S. & Vanthournout, H. (2012), in McKinsey&Company (ed), Manufacturing resource productivity.

[6] European Vocational Training Association, (2009), Future Skills and Training Needs: a prospect

[7] ‘Industrial-robot supplier ABB is launching a two-armed robot called YuMi that is specifically designed to assemble products (such as consumer electronics) alongside humans. Two padded arms and computer vision allow for safe interaction and parts recognition. ‘Boston Consulting Group, Industry 4.0 The future productivity and growth in manufacturing industries, viewed 20 July 2016.

[8] Proskills UK, (2012), The sector skills assessment 2010 for the process and manufacturing sector and McKinsey Global Institute 2012, Manufacturing the future: the next era of global growth and innovation

[9] UKCES, (2012), Manufacturing: Sector Skills Assessment

[11] Worldskills, (2015), Worldskills standard specification – Skill 16 Electronics

[12] UK Government Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, (2010), Growth Review Framework for Advanced Manufacturing

[14] Accenture, (2013), Skills and Employment Trends Survey: Perspectives on Training