Empowering the New Workforce: Productivity Improvements Help Maintain Growth

Manufacturers are traveling a bumpy road, fraught with trade volatility and uncertain economic indicators that fluctuate in today’s highly-charged political climate.

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Nick CastellinaNick Castellina

Manufacturers are traveling a bumpy road, fraught with trade volatility and uncertain economic indicators that fluctuate in today’s highly-charged political climate. But, digital technologies are a creating a bridge to positive outcomes. For instance, manufacturers are coaxing greater efficiencies out of their modernized plants and from workforces equipped with digital tools. So, despite analyst projections that the economy will decelerate this year, tech-savvy manufacturers can still be on course for growth. With the right technology behind the efforts, automation will provide the necessary momentum to carry them forward.

Skills Gap and Impact on Success

Advanced, digital manufacturing, often called Industry 4.0, has created a mismatch between the talent pool and the skills needed to run plants today. Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute have been studying this discord for over a decade and recently conducted the fourth survey and report on skill gaps in manufacturing. The latest data shows that the situation is intensifying, despite numerous grass roots efforts to increase exposure to STEM courses in schools, upgrade the image of manufacturing, and attract non-traditional recruits to manufacturing jobs.

The study reveals that the skills gap may leave an estimated 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028, with a potential economic impact of 2.5 trillion. The positions relating to digital talent, skilled production, and operational managers may be three times as difficult to fill in the next three years.

The study also shows that jobs are not being eliminated by technology, as some had feared. The reverse is true—more jobs are being created. In fact, job openings have been growing at double-digit rates since mid-2017, and are nearing the historical peak recorded in 2001, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Looking Beyond the Stats

Despite the severe shortage of skilled workers, manufacturers are boosting productivity. Therefore, the skills gap has not yet been detrimental to productivity. Perhaps the shortage of available workers is forcing manufacturers to optimize the existing workforce and turn to technology to stretch resources. However, even manufacturers who have already made process improvements can benefit from a second look at ways to improve productivity.

Eights Tips for Enhancing Productivity:  

  1. Consume data more effectively with modern technology. Software continues to provide ways to automate and streamline steps as new functionality anticipates needs of the user, based on roles and custom-defined workflows. The system pushes data to the user in easy-to-read dashboards, workbenches, and consumable reporting, and thus empowering fast decision-making. Modern IT solutions also feature consumer-like navigation and intuitive user-interfaces which boost workforce productivity and support collaboration, personal metrics, and artificial inlligence (AI)-aided personal assistants.
  2. Refine execution. As technology evolves, manufacturers must continually update workflows and documentation, as well as job descriptions, policy compliance, quality control, and job training. In the rush to install new equipment, execution processes impacting productivity may be passed over quickly or totally forgotten. Inefficiencies are bound to creep in as traditional processes and digital practices collide. Likewise, the speed of the change can lead to undocumented practices as new ideas are quickly deployed before proper training takes place. To avoid these issues, a refinement stage should be built into the launch process for any new technologies.     
  3. Eliminate redundancies. Manufacturers who are willing to go back to the basics and review processes from the ground up often find opportunities for improvement – especially redundancies which can be eliminated. Rushing to bring new technologies on board could result in duplications of data entry or reporting. Taking time to review end-to-end processes and refine steps is likely to result in productivity improvements.  
  4. Apply talent science. Manufacturers must often upskill existing workers or provide on-the-job training for new recruits. Modern talent science solutions help identify the experiences and soft skill traits that align with the open position. Predictive analytics help forecast if a recruit will excel and when additional training or mentoring would be helpful. Technology can help manufacturers make wise investments in a workforce that will be highly productive as the enterprise evolves.
  5. Maximize human potential. The large numbers of unfilled positions force existing workers to take on multiple roles, multi-task and learn to efficiently manage their time. Quick decision-making, streamlining workflows, eliminating redundancies, and automating processes are some of the ways advanced IT solutions are helping workers step up to the challenges before them. Increasing a company’s revenue per full-time employee is often a necessity for achieving growth. This means working smarter, being proactive, and seizing unfolding opportunities as they arise. Agility, confident decision-making, creative problem solving, engagement with customers, and insightful use of data are other uniquely human skills to be optimized.
  6. Form partnerships. Transformation requires new thinking, new alliances, and enterprises collectively sharing new best practices. A group of Wisconsin manufacturing industry stakeholders joined together to form the Transformational Productivity Initiative (TPI) to proactively work on business models to overcome worker shortages and the slowing economy. Several state organizations are collaborating with academia, including the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Wisconsin-Stout’s Manufacturing Outreach Center. Early results show that productivity gains of 40 percent are possible. Such improvements, though, require increased performance in several aspects of the business, from strategic planning to human capital management and shop floor operations.
  7. Understand the skills needed. One of the challenges manufacturers face is understanding how traditional jobs are morphing into new jobs and how to create career paths that will evolve along with changing demands of customers. To recruit and retain skilled workers, manufacturers must be able to describe the career path and the technology that will support the journey.
  8. Redefine manufacturing jobs. Digital technologies require manufacturers to redefine jobs. Robotics, use of Internet of Things (IoT) technology, AI, augmented analytics, virtual reality and augmented reality all change the way the workforce interacts with data, machines, and systems. Some skills will always be uniquely human. However, other jobs with repetitive motions or in dangerous environments may be better suited for robots or co-bots. New skillsets are needed, and soft skills, like team-building, creative thinking, and conflict-resolution, will be highly valuable for the evolving enterprise.  

Final Take-Away

Manufacturers need to tap into resources to help identify, recruit, train, and retain the modern workforce. Finding potential solutions to close the manufacturing skills gap begins by exploring what a career in manufacturing will look like in the future and what traits lead to success. The industry must also work to change faulty perceptions that manufacturing jobs are dirty or dangerous. Manufacturers should continue efforts to educate communities and potential workers about the new era in manufacturing—and the high-tech careers in the factories of the future.

Nick Castellina is Director of Industry and Product Strategy, Infor.

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