Roz Yellen, a human resources employee at a 600-person aerospace manufacturing company in Arlington, Texas, has been instructed by leadership to hire 100 advanced manufacturing technicians. Due to their recent pivot to next-generation manufacturing technologies, the company is forced to rely on an internal training process to upskill their workforce. Their partner, Dallas College, annually enrolls 160,000 students and does not offer the associated education throughput to support these unique needs. The manufacturing industry is facing yet another workforce pipeline shortage. Yellen knows that without the available workforce, the company is not positioned well to meet both national and state needs. Hyperinflation and the erosion of the petrodollar has cut into the hiring budget, and she simply cannot meet wage demand.
The narrative above depicts a fictionalized event that hasn’t happened … yet. This type of exercise, called threatcasting, is a concept that operates using input from social science, technical research, cultural history, economics, trends, expert interviews and science fiction to create potential visions of the future — both good and bad.
Threatcasting was developed by Brian David Johnson, a futurist and professor at Arizona State University. The goal of this technique is to converge widely varied perspectives into a cohesive story around a possible scenario and a set of affected stakeholders. It provides a tool to anticipate a future state or outcome and all the variables that must occur for that state or outcome to become reality.
During a threatcasting session, groups will unite around a singular research question like “What will happen to the defense aerospace manufacturing industry due to the rapid adoption, or lack of adoption, of smart manufacturing technologies?” The next stage of the process is similar to writing a science fiction novel or movie trailer.
Each participant then invents a fictional person, who works in the manufacturing industry, and will be impacted by the research question. The personas require intimate design — outlining traits as detailed as fashion choices, hobbies or coffee-versus-tea preference.
Every individual character will face potential threats, strengths, vulnerabilities and more due to the research inputs. As each story is built out, participants and leaders search for cohesive thoughts or gaps among every scenario. The data is then coded and aggregated to see what commonalities do or do not exist.
“Using threatcasting to envision future risks is important. We have a changing environment in the form of current best practices that are rapidly evolving in manufacturing,” said Dr. Darrell Wallace, deputy director and chief technology officer at the SecureAmerica Institute. “There are potential disruptions to the industry that must be taken seriously and can be devastating. This new awareness of vulnerabilities, combined with the tool of threatcasting, helps us prepare for the unknown.”
Historically, the manufacturing industry has been technologically mature without compelling paradigm shifts. In the past 20-30 years, the industry has evolved significantly with the acceleration of digital manufacturing, the digitization of traditional manufacturing practices and a rapidly changing ecosystem with more competitive advantages, disadvantages and risks.
The SecureAmerica Institute’s mission is to converge disciplines to secure U.S. manufacturing, and threatcasting will be an important concept to explore. Experts across the institute are leveraging threatcasting tools to provide a window into the possible liabilities impacting its community of interest.
“We are starting with and focusing primarily on Texas defense aerospace manufacturing,” Wallace said. “This certainly has implications for the entire Texas manufacturing enterprise and national interests around manufacturing. Our intent is to create awareness of different threats and opportunities so we are better prepared at the regional, state and national levels to withstand industry threats and disruptions.”