Industry 4.0 is transforming factories, but some manufacturing leaders I’ve spoken with recently haven’t put much thought into a strategy for transforming their workforce. The analogy I like to use is that they’re stuck in Industry 2.0 workforce practices. They know Industry 4.0 technologies require different skills. They get that filling job vacancies due to retiring baby boomers is an issue, and that millennials have different needs and expectations of workplaces. The focus has been on the technology on the line, which is understandable. But we’re far from the robot apocalypse. We still need people to get the full value from Industry 4.0. Old approaches won’t work, and it’s time for re-thinking how we develop, manage, and support our workers.
Manufacturing is struggling to attract younger talent due to misconceptions about the industry – only 45% of respondents to this 2018 survey believe it’s a good career for young people. To change this, we need to show that we’re going to manage the workforce differently. In a recent interview Nick Pinchuk, chairman and CEO of Snap-on, says it bluntly. “If you’re the head of a company and you say that people are your most important asset, on occasion you have to act like it.” He adds “my senior leadership team needs to know that employees are the most valuable asset.”
These days workers – especially younger ones –expect the type of experience they have as consumers to extend to other areas of their lives. The secret to engaging today’s and tomorrow’s workforce is personalization.
For example, offer training and career development, but let employees customize their path. Investing in a Learning Experience Platform (LXP) will give younger generations the Netflix-style experience they prefer, while being flexible enough to cater to different learning styles and capabilities.
The same thinking should be applied to how information gets shared with the workforce. Self-serve tools that are available both online and through mobile apps give workers the option to choose their preferred method of receiving information and communicating with coworkers. Consumerizing the employee experience helps position your employer brand as forward-thinking and employee-centric.
Speaking of training…one of the hallmarks of Industry 4.0 transformation is that it’s never going to be “done”. When has the path of advancement slowed down in our lifetime? Never to my recollection – it keeps accelerating. This means we’ll always be tracking a moving target. To adapt, equip your workers with right skills for the future, while ensuring institutional knowledge remains in the company as the workforce ages.
Consider the full spectrum of training methods and learning opportunities available to reskill the workforce. Production won’t slow down, so reskilling initiatives will have to happen while the work continues. Design a structure that encourages and rewards learning on the job.
At the same time, there are a wide variety of skills that will matter in the future, from operating advanced technologies to developing complex reasoning and communication skills. You can find these skills in-house if you look. Leverage your Human Capital Management (HCM) system to identify the right base skills, attributes, and interests in your existing employees and encourage them to explore and grow. Allowing self-service growth and opportunity heightens engagement. People are fungible – they can do many things – but only if you let them.
Succession planning should also be a key component of your training strategy. A strong succession plan will support both leadership development and critical non-manager roles to ensure the organisation is equipped to handle unplanned absences, fluctuations in demand, and employees leaving or changing roles.
Many manufacturers are well down the path of digital initiatives as part of their Industry 4.0 journey. The next step is to optimize the people side of the business to match that level of efficiency and sophistication. Manufacturers can see a reduction in labour costs and downtime by investing in the right technology for advanced workforce management, such as data-driven labour forecasting, scheduling, competency matching, and task management.
Strategic manufacturers are pulling data from across the organisation and integrating it. Using data holistically gives companies more insight into the bigger picture of workforce performance. But that’s only possible when technology systems are connected, and employee data can be collated from multiple sources.
Many organisations are still operating with disparate systems for people management and HR processes. In fact, 34% of organisations in one study said not having HR systems integrated with other organisational systems was a top barrier to making optimal use of predictive analytics. Using data holistically can help organisations place the right number of workers with the right skills at the right times for maximum productivity.
Manufacturers can transform the workforce by focusing their efforts on creating big wins in employee retention, reskilling, and productivity. When your team is engaged and immersed in a culture of continuous learning, and you’re set up to track, measure, and make decisions based on real-time performance, you’re on your way to creating a nimble workforce of the future.