SACA - Rapid Digital Transformation Makes Cybersecurity a Priority for Manufacturers

Most modern manufacturing facilities bear little resemblance to the hot, dirty facilities many people still imagine when they think of manufacturing. Instead, today’s manufacturing workplaces boast clean, comfortable environs suitable for the advanced automation technologies that have enabled manufacturers to be more productive and efficient than ever before.

The advancements that result from new automation technologies aren’t without their costs, however. According to a recent IndustryWeek article by Stephen Gold, “These are harrowing times for manufacturing professionals who, in an era of Industry 4.0, are trying to integrate their information technology and operational technology while defending against the dramatically rising threat of cyber criminals.”

Eschewing these new technologies isn’t an option, according to Gold: “It’s not like they have a choice on whether to integrate their IT with OT such as machine automation, industrial control systems (ICS), robotics, programmable logistics controllers (PLCs) and building management systems (BMS). Successful IT/OT collaboration is critical to modern manufacturers’ digital strategies.”

Unfortunately, these same technologies have become “the portal where cyber criminals gain entry to the lifeblood of the company: factory operations.” Is the threat really that serious, though? Indeed, it is. According to IBM’s X-Force Threat Intelligence, “in 2021, manufacturing surpassed finance and insurance as the top targeted sector of cyber bad actors.  Today, 1 out of every 4 cyber-attacks on business are against manufacturers.”

Why target manufacturers? One potential reason is the fact that many manufacturers have been quick to adopt new technologies but slow to ensure that those technologies are secure. Another key reason is that, “[d]espite FBI guidance, manufacturers pay the requested ransom more often than other industries – and at typically higher rates.”

Fortunately, manufacturers appear to be “meeting the challenge head on.” A recent study “found that American manufacturers’ level of cyber maturity is catching up to their accelerated pace of digital transformation. This is vital because, while financial extortion related to data theft is a serious risk, infiltration of operating systems with the intent to sabotage or even shut them down poses an existential threat to manufacturers.”

The first step to address cybersecurity risks is raising awareness of and acknowledging the issue. Much progress has been made in this area. The study found that, “[w]hen asked to rank cybersecurity as a business risk, 80% put it in the top five, 10 percentage points higher than three years ago. And no wonder: that same percentage experienced at least one breach resulting in unauthorized access to data in the previous 12 months.”

While not every manufacturer gets hit with a ransom demand, the effects of cyberattacks can be widespread and devastating. Manufacturers have reported issues ranging from operational outages that affected revenue to significant loss of business-critical data and intellectual property.

The key to effective cybersecurity remains efficiently managing IT and OT threats. However, “manufacturers face one primary obstacle to ultimate success: finding in-house expertise to oversee the cyber threat, a high hurdle considering the broader skilled talent shortage being experienced.”

The manufacturing skills gap is real, and it’s even more critical in the area of cybersecurity. According to a recent survey, “roughly 8 out of 10 manufacturers pointed to scarcity of talent and expertise as a key barrier to effective breach response within the last year.” That’s why it’s critical for manufacturers to hire highly skilled workers that can manage cybersecurity risks, in addition to operating, maintaining, troubleshooting, and repairing the advanced automation systems that are being implemented.

How can manufacturers find the workers they need? And how can they be sure that workers have the hands-on skills they need to succeed in the modern workplace? Today, more and more manufacturers are looking for workers with industry-standard certifications that prove they have the skills employers need. For example, if workers possess a certification from the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA), employers can feel confident they’ve already proven they have the knowledge and hands-on skills needed for working with advanced smart automation technologies. SACA has been hard at work collaborating with industry leaders to develop a wide variety of industry-standard certifications that will help employers find workers who possess the advanced connected-systems skills they need to take their businesses to the next level. Be sure to check out SACA and all it has to offer!

Smart Device Cyberattacks

Do you work in a smart factory? From the smartphone in your pocket to the smart thermostat on the wall at home, devices that are part of connected systems have taken over our modern lives, and that includes the factory floor.

Even if your industrial facility isn’t filled with a bunch of robots or a fleet of automated guided vehicles, chances are good that at least some advanced automation technologies have made their way into operations in some way, shape, or form. And if they haven’t yet, these technologies are sure to appear soon.

Manufacturers everywhere have embraced new automation technologies because they improve productivity, efficiency, and ultimately profitability. However, as manufacturers add more and more smart devices to their networks, the risk of cyberattacks on those devices increases accordingly.

The bad actors behind the cyberattacks that have made the news in the last few years know that manufacturers often implement new technologies before adding the highly skilled workers they need to keep those advanced systems safe. How safe is your plant floor from cyberattacks?

According to a recent Automation World article by Matt Smith, “[i]ndustrial control systems (ICS) and operations technology (OT) are vulnerable to cyberthreats and vulnerabilities that target crucial industrial processes. The effects go far beyond data breaches and have the power to upend entire industries, jeopardize security and even put lives in danger.”

Smith provides several examples of the types of problems that can arise if a facility’s cybersecurity isn’t managed properly:

  • “Any successful cyberattack on OT/ICS technologies could cause system downtime and significantly reduce productivity…As a result, financial impacts can be significant, with losses in market reputation and investor confidence in addition to revenue losses.”
  • “[A] cyberattack on the control systems of a power plant could cause power outages that would impact not only businesses but also homes, hospitals and other vital services that depend on electricity.”
  • “Accidents and fatalities can result from a successful attack on transportation infrastructure, such as rail networks or traffic control systems.”
  • “Pipeline or chemical plant control system breaches can cause spills, leaks and other environmental catastrophes with long-term ecological and financial repercussions.”

How can manufacturers take steps to minimize the risk of cyberattacks? According to Smith, “strong cybersecurity measures are increasingly necessary to reduce these risks as industries place a greater reliance on connected systems. Businesses need to understand that cybersecurity is a key component of their overall risk management strategy, not just an IT issue.”

That’s why it’s critical for manufacturers to hire highly skilled workers that can manage cybersecurity risks, in addition to operating, maintaining, troubleshooting, and repairing the advanced automation systems that are being implemented. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing “skills gap” issue in the manufacturing sector, finding highly skilled workers remains a significant challenge.

How can manufacturers find the workers they need? And how can they be sure that workers have the hands-on skills they need to succeed in the modern workplace? Today, more and more manufacturers are looking for workers with industry-standard certifications that prove they have the skills employers need. For example, if workers possess a certification from the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA), employers can feel confident they’ve already proven they have the knowledge and hands-on skills needed for working with advanced smart automation technologies. SACA has been hard at work collaborating with industry leaders to develop a wide variety of industry-standard certifications that will help employers find workers who possess the advanced connected-systems skills they need to take their businesses to the next level. Be sure to check out SACA and all it has to offer!

The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) is proud to announce the inclusion of SACA certifications on the latest Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) list of approved Industry Based Certifications (IBC). This will allow access for students at Texas’ 3,000+ high schools to become certified in cutting-edge Industry 4.0 competencies and prepare them for jobs in rapidly changing industrial environments. This will aid both the Texas workforce and industry in closing the skills gap that currently exists worldwide as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology continues to be adopted.

The adoption of new IBCs by the TEA is a bi-annual process and certifications must pass a rigid vetting process based around six criteria to make certain that certifications prepare students for in-demand jobs within the current workforce. The TEA ensures the relevance of these certifications by soliciting feedback from industry councils and employers. The inclusion of SACA certification will allow students to enroll in SACA-aligned programs, which will aid school districts by receiving additional funding for students who attain SACA certifications.

The TEA-approved SACA certifications include:

  • Certified Industry 4.0 Associate – Basic Operations (C-101)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Associate – Robot System Operations (C-103)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I – Electrical Systems 1 (C-201)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I – Electric Motor Control Systems 1 (C-202)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I – Motor Control Troubleshooting 1 (C-204)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I – Programmable Controller Troubleshooting 1 (C-208)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I – Robotic Operations 1 (C-215)
  • Certified Industry 4.0 Automation Systems Specialist I – Robotic System Integration 1 (C-216)

About SACA

The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop and deploy modular Industry 4.0 certifications for a wide range of industries. With the help our partners, SACA has created certifications that are industry-driven, developed for industry by industry. They are developed through a rigorous process that begins with the creation of truly international skill standards, endorsed by leading experts in Industry 4.0 technologies throughout the world.

SACA - Industry 4.0 Creates Need for IT & Cybersecurity Experts

The challenges facing industries across the country and around the world continue in the ongoing wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. When you add staggering inflation to supply chain disruptions, it’s no wonder companies everywhere are searching for ways to increase productivity and efficiency.

One of the primary solutions many companies are embracing is a range of advanced automation technologies collectively known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industry 4.0. The shift to connected-systems technologies began well before the pandemic, but the effects of the pandemic have greatly increased the adoption rate of Industry 4.0 technologies.

Whether it’s adding robots, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), or sensors to machines, Industry 4.0 technologies are gaining ground and making a difference. However, adoption of these new solutions can also create an entirely new set of needs that companies must address.

In this article, we’ll take a brief look at how Industry 4.0 technologies create a need for specialized IT and cybersecurity experts to oversee and manage these new solutions. We’ll also explain how the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) can help companies find the right experts with the advanced Industry 4.0 skills they need to take their businesses to the next level.

Looking to Industry 4.0 for Solutions

Regardless of your industry or the size of your company, no one has been immune from the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent supply chain issues and rising costs associated with inflation. For many companies, it seems like it’s simply one thing after another with a new challenge arising every day.

To combat these problems, companies everywhere are searching for solutions that allow them to increase productivity and efficiency even in the midst of an extremely tight labor market. As a recent article by Henry Martel points out, “an increasing number of [manufacturers] are embracing Industry 4.0 to bolster enterprise efficiency by making their manufacturing more aware, predictive, and autonomous.”

But what does embracing Industry 4.0 really mean, in a practical sense? Martel breaks it down for us in his article:

“The shift from Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0 involves the convergence between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Connecting OT systems to an IT network allows a more detailed view of individual equipment and creates a comprehensive view of the entire ecosystem, simplifying management and operation. Besides allowing machines to be largely operated autonomously without human supervision, Industry 4.0 creates higher value when data collected from intelligent sensors and actuators connected to equipment leads to better decision making, as well as to the ‘learning’ that’s now possible with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).”

For example, Martel explains that “analyzing big data collected from sensors on the factory floor provides real-time visibility of manufacturing assets to facilitate predictive maintenance in order to minimize costly downtime. In this instance, machine learning algorithms detect and target faulty parts before they wear out, rather than wait until repair work is more expensive.”

In addition to machine learning, Industry 4.0 takes advantage of artificial intelligence “to analyze sensor data to track equipment usage, improve workflows, streamline logistics, increase safety, and achieve higher overall efficiency across OT and IT operations.” In this way, “Industry 4.0 unlocks actionable data throughout the plant and beyond, improving operational awareness in manufacturing and maintenance processes.”

The benefits of these new advanced automation technologies are clear, and early adopters are seeing huge gains in both efficiency and productivity. However, these Industry 4.0 technologies do create a new need for companies: IT and cybersecurity experts that can operate, program, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair these intricate and complex systems that generate enormous amounts of data.

The Need for IT & Cybersecurity Experts

A recent Embedded article by Johan Kraft paints a clear picture of the IT and security needs created by these new “immensely complex” IIoT systems. As Kraft notes, “[o]ne of the defining features of Industry 4.0 is distributed sensing. This latest iteration of industrial automation sees a dramatic increase in the sensor nodes used to monitor equipment and processes, all linked up to gateway devices in a complex industrial internet of things (IIoT)…But this also requires more focus on the security of the network to ensure safe operation.”

Why is security such a critical issue with Industry 4.0 systems? Kraft explains: “Most industrial systems have been isolated in closed loop systems. Industry 4.0 opens these systems up to the wider Internet and higher risks of compromise.” Martel agrees:

“But just as these new technologies have created the opportunities for optimization, they have also introduced new risks and security threats, creating a completely different threat vector than PC-based networks. Industry 4.0, for all its benefits, makes ‘Industry’ an appealing target for cyber-attacks. The expanded attack surface gives bad actors the opportunity to move laterally across a network, jumping across IT and OT systems for industrial espionage, intellectual property theft, IP leakage, or even production sabotage. For this reason, cybersecurity best practices must be acknowledged as one of the pillars to a successful Industry 4.0 strategy.”

Kraft points out that security risks to industry are all too real: “The latest Pipedream malware is deliberately targeting industrial automation and SCADA systems. This does not exploit a vulnerability but uses the inherent functions of the programmable logic controller (PLCs).”

Martel sums up the need as follows:

“Before Industry 4.0, OT devices and systems were ‘air-gapped’ to isolate them from risk. That is not possible today. Industrial switches, media converters, and wireless routers must feature robust, DoD-compliant layer 2 and layer 3 security that helps manage network traffic at scale.”

How SACA Certifications Can Help Companies Find the Talent They Need

The need for advanced Industry 4.0 technologies is clear, and their benefits are many. But how can companies unfamiliar with the types of IT issues and cybersecurity concerns involved with Industry 4.0 technologies navigate their way through these obstacles?

Fortunately, they don’t have to figure everything out by themselves. The Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) sits at the forefront of the effort to certify students and workers who demonstrate the required knowledge and hands-on smart automation skills employers so desperately need, including advanced IT systems and cybersecurity.

SACA’s certifications were developed in conjunction with industry partners who could speak from experience about their needs when it comes to workers able to work alongside a variety of advanced automation technologies. For example, SACA offers a Certified Industry 4.0 IT Systems Specialist certification that prepares individuals to succeed in information technology technician and engineering positions in modern production environments that use Industry 4.0 technologies.

This certification features a variety of elective micro-credentials that are ideal for individuals seeking to become versed in Industry 4.0 automation, such as: robot system operations and integration; programmable controller systems; industrial Ethernet communications; smart sensors; SCADA systems; Industry 4.0 data analytics; and industrial network security systems.

For workers, SACA certifications can help market their smart automation skills to potential employers. For those employers, SACA certifications represent confirmation that a worker has the skills to hit the ground running in the workplace.

To learn more about Industry 4.0 certifications and how SACA can help both future workers and industrial employers begin the task of bridging the Industry 4.0 skills gap, contact SACA for more information.

Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs Offer New Opportunities


Industries across the United States have been struggling for years to fill open positions with qualified workers. Despite widespread recognition of the problems industries face, the skills gap has continued to widen.

Rather than bringing new solutions, 2020 instead saw a global pandemic make an already-tough jobs situation worse. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, millions of American workers have lost their jobs, many of them permanently.

As the U.S. seeks to recover from “the most devastating economic crisis since the Great Depression,” there is no shortage of problems that must be addressed and solutions that need to be formulated. How effective those solutions are will dictate the speed and scope of economic recovery.

Unlike past economic recovery initiatives that often pushed people toward college degrees, experts believe that our current economic recovery from the COVID-19 Recession must instead focus on practical skill development for jobs industries need. To that end, community colleges and skills training may play a critical role.

Another potential solution with a proven track record of success is apprenticeship. In fact, many believe new industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs) will provide fresh opportunities for both American workers and industries that desperately need skilled talent. How? IRAPs will expand the use of the apprenticeship model to industries that haven’t used it or have underutilized it in the past.

What Are IRAPs?

So what exactly are IRAPs anyway? According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) website:

“Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs are high-quality apprenticeship programs recognized as such by a Standards Recognition Entity (SRE) pursuant to the DOL’s standards. These programs provide individuals with opportunities to obtain workplace-relevant knowledge and progressively advancing skills. IRAPs include a paid-work component and an educational component and result in an industry-recognized credential. An IRAP is developed or delivered by entities such as trade and industry groups, corporations, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, unions, and joint labor-management organizations.”

For example, the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA) was recognized as one of 18 initial organizations designated as an SRE by the DOL on September 23, 2020. SACA may now evaluate and recognize IRAPs consistent with DOL standards.

What are those standards? According to the DOL’s IRAP Fact Sheet, high-quality IRAPs must meet the following 10 requirements:

  1. Paid Work
  2. Written Training Plan
  3. Written Apprenticeship Agreement
  4. Specialized Knowledge and Experience
  5. Safety
  6. Equal Employment Opportunity
  7. Credit for Prior Knowledge
  8. Mentorship
  9. Industry-Recognized Credentials
  10. Disclosure of Costs and Fees.

When Were IRAPs Created?

IRAPs are a relatively-new solution in the area of workforce development. Their history can be traced back to June 15, 2017, when President Trump issued an Executive Order to Expand Apprenticeships in America.

According to a DOL press release, the order established the 20-member Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, which was “headed by the Secretary of Labor and co-chaired by the Secretaries of Commerce and Education.”

The DOL’s IRAP Fact Sheet notes that the president’s order “directed the Secretary to consider proposing regulations that promote the development of apprenticeship programs by third parties…especially in sectors where apprenticeship programs are insufficient.”

The Task Force subsequently recommended the establishment of IRAPs in May 2018. Eventually, as the IRAP Fact Sheet notes:

“To address America’s skills gap and to rapidly increase the availability of high-quality apprenticeship programs in sectors where apprenticeship opportunities are not widespread, the [DOL] has issued a Final Rule that establishes a system for advancing the development of high-quality IRAPs.”

IRAPs then became official when new regulations took effect on May 11, 2020.

How Do IRAPs Differ from Traditional Apprenticeships?

According to a recent Forbes article by Ryan Craig:

“For years, policy makers have struggled with the question of how to expand apprenticeships from traditional blue collar building and industrial trades to fast-growing sectors like technology, healthcare, and professional services. On a per capita basis, the U.S. is far behind other nations: Germany has nearly 20x as many apprentices, and the UK has 14x.”

Craig further notes that the goal of IRAPs is:

“to increase the number of actual American apprentices from 500,000 to 5 million by decentralizing apprenticeship authority from the DOL to hundreds of third party IRAP authorizers [SREs]…The expectation is that while DOL registered apprenticeships are infamous for the amount of paperwork required, IRAPs will be much less onerous and therefore more popular.”

Rather than taking apprenticeships in an entirely new direction, IRAPS are “intended to run in tandem with the department’s long-established registered apprenticeship program,” according to an article from the Community College Daily website. Indeed, the DOL’s IRAP FAQ clearly notes:

“IRAPs and RAPs [Registered Apprenticeship Programs] will work on parallel tracks with the support of the Department. The Registered Apprenticeship system has produced successful results in many industries for over 80 years and it will continue to do so. The industry-led, market-driven approach outlined in the IRAP final rule will give employers and other stakeholders the additional flexibility necessary to expand the apprenticeship model into new industries where registered programs are less prevalent and to address the diverse workforce needs of different industries and occupations. IRAPs provide a new apprenticeship pathway that lets industry organizations take the lead in identifying high-quality apprenticeship programs and opportunities based on the needs in their industry.”

Consistent with the goal of expanding the apprenticeship model to new industries, one notable difference between IRAPs and RAPs is that SREs are prohibited from recognizing IRAPs in the construction industry. According to article by Katie Spiker from the National Skills Coalition:

“This carve out was…the subject of a massive campaign by the building trades unions…According to proponents of the construction industry exclusion, and the Department in their justification of excluding construction in the final IRAP rule, the fact that the majority of U.S. apprenticeships are in the construction industry is evidence the model is effective for the industry and that expanding IRAPs to construction is not necessary to meet the goal of expanding apprenticeships in the U.S.”

Who Will Benefit from IRAPs?

The DOL clearly outlines a set of expected benefits to both workers and businesses in its IRAP Fact Sheet. For businesses, the DOL expects IRAPs to:

  • provide an additional pathway to assist career seekers and job creators;
  • serve the needs of business by expanding apprenticeships across more industries;
  • use innovative, industry-driven approaches to scale a proven workforce education model;
  • allow more flexibility to design apprenticeship programs that meet business needs; and
  • supply an immediate pool of workers for today and skilled talent for tomorrow.

For workers, IRAPs are expected to:

  • offer opportunities to earn and learn, while obtaining valuable, portable, industry-recognized, competency-based credentials;
  • provide training in standards that are developed by the industry, ensuring an apprentice develops the skillset needed for career success;
  • increase the opportunities for apprenticeship programs across all sectors in the economy; and
  • provide an alternative to college for finding career success that allows workers to obtain high paying jobs without going into debt.

Katie Spiker echoes the view that both workers and businesses should benefit from IRAPs: “The IRAP initiative is evidence of the need to modernize apprenticeship, expand access to workers to earn industry-recognized credentials and allow businesses to play more of a role in helping tailor the kind of training their workers receive to meet their specific needs.”

While traditional registered apprenticeship programs have been successful for years, Roy Maurer notes in a recent article for SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, that “only about 0.2 percent of the U.S. workforce has taken advantage of the programs, primarily in trades and construction.” The DOL believes IRAPs “will effectively expand apprenticeship in telecommunications, health care, cybersecurity and other sectors where it’s currently not widely used.”

Rachel Greszler, senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, believes the benefits to workers are clear:

“The [IRAPs] rule is an important step in opening up more nontraditional and affordable education opportunities that could particularly benefit younger Americans who have been left behind by America’s higher-education system, as well as current workers who have been negatively impacted by changes in industry and technology. It’s not in everyone’s best interest to pursue an expensive four-year college education, and these types of apprenticeships make it possible for individuals to obtain the education they need for a promising career without taking on debt, and instead, actually being paid in the process.”

As U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia summarized in a DOL press release:

“As workers seek to reenter the workforce following the economic disruption caused by coronavirus, [IRAPs] and the SREs that recognize them will provide new opportunities for Americans to earn a living while learning the skills needed in a changing job market.”

Where Can I Learn More About IRAPs?

According to Ryan Craig:

“There are millions of unemployed workers whose jobs are unlikely to return once the pandemic subsides. So one of the most important policy questions in America today is how they’ll find paths back to work…If there is an answer, apprenticeships will almost certainly play a leading role.”

If you want to learn more about IRAPs and the SREs who will be helping to bring them to life, be sure to check out the DOL’s website. The latest information and developments will be posted there as IRAPs take shape and begin to fulfill the goal of expanding apprenticeships into new industries while helping workers gain new skills.