3 Ways Technology Can Drive Competitiveness in Manufacturing

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A prolonged period of expansion in the US manufacturing sector combined with near-historic low unemployment is fuelling record numbers of job openings. Yet organisations are unable to fill the growing number of vacancies or provide workers with the new skills they need. According to Deloitte’s new 2018 Skills Gap study, global manufacturing executives rank the search for skilled talent as the number one driver of manufacturing competitiveness.

The skills crisis in US manufacturing may leave an estimated 2.4 million positions vacant in the coming decade. According to the report, job openings have been growing at double-digit rates since mid-2017, during one of the tightest talent markets in recent history. If the skills shortage continues as customer demand grows, it could potentially create a GDP shortfall of US$454 billion by 2028.

“With nearly 2 million vacant new jobs expected by 2028, compounded by 2.69 million vacancies from retiring workers, the number of open positions could be greater than ever and might pose not only a major challenge for manufacturers but may threaten the vitality of the industry and our economy,” said Paul Wellener, vice chairman, Deloitte LLP, and U.S. industrial products and construction leader.

The factors driving the workforce crisis are multi-faceted. They range from a negative perception of the future of work in the manufacturing sector, to a lack of available skills.

Yet despite widely held fears technology will take manufacturing jobs in the future, the reality is technology will create more jobs than they replace. Executives expect the demand for these five skill sets to boom due to advancing technologies:

  • Technology/computer skills

  • Digital skills

  • Programming skills for robots/automation

  • Working with tools and technology

  • Critical thinking

Workers will increasingly work alongside robots and machines. A critical focus will be helping workers adapt to an environment where automation is embedded across functions.

According to the study, manufacturers are taking the following steps to solve their workforce crisis:

  1. Build Agile Teams. In the US, the pattern of work is shifting away from permanent, full-time work towards contingent, part-time or gig work. More than 40 per cent of workers of all ages and skills are now employed in these alternative work arrangements. Yet Deloitte’s research shows most companies are not ready. Manufacturers can leverage this workforce sector to help close the skills gap. Technology platforms can build, connect and enable agile teams to communicate and collaborate.

  2. Leverage Mentoring. An entire generation of highly experienced workers are set to retire in the next decade. Tapping into their knowledge and sharing it with a multi-generational workforce. This is a competitive advantage. Linking newer team members with experienced workers for regular mentoring meetings can grow the collective intelligence of the entire organisation. This will ensure their experience will continue to influence the organisation.

  3. Increase Diversity and Inclusion. Deloitte’s 2017 Women in Manufacturing study reveals women constitute one of US manufacturing’s largest pools of untapped talent. Women totalled about 47 percent of the US labour force in 2016, but only 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce.

The Manufacturing Institute, APICS, and Deloitte surveyed over 600 women in manufacturing to assess their job satisfaction. They interviewed nearly 20 executives to explore how the sector can attract, recruit and retain women.

Women are underrepresented in nearly every manufacturing sector in the US. They rarely appear in senior leadership roles, compared with the proportion of women leaders in other sectors.

A common theme among manufacturing executives is they must drive organisational accountability of increasing diversity and promoting a culture of inclusion. Strategies discussed include:

  • Setting clear goals

  • Using analytics to assess and develop the talent pipeline

  • Incorporating inclusion practices to maximise all employees’ potential

  • Fostering sponsorship of female employees

  • Promoting continual personal development

  • Providing challenging assignments

Creating workplaces where women and men have equal opportunity to advance and lead will narrow the gender gap in US manufacturing. Accessing a rich data set to monitor these initiatives will help drive learning, development and agility in the sector.

Tech-Enabled Mentoring

WERKIN’s tech-enabled mentoring platform enables team leaders to match employees with stretch assignments and missions on the go with their mobile devices. Team members create digital profiles of their skills, experience and achievements. Leaders set goals such as business challenges and missions. The technology assembles teams to deliver a mission, evolves as the project progresses and dismantles when the goal is achieved. Algorithms also match seasoned expertise impartially with skills gaps. Push notifications guide mentoring pairs through stages of development. Complementary skills and knowledge flow within and through networked teams. This enables organisations to thrive in the most volatile environments.

Many industries claim they are experiencing a ‘talent shortage’. Yet when we look more closely at the statistics behind the lack of candidates, we discover it is a mindset issue. A talent crisis can be solved by creating an environment where workers of all ages and skills, in all types of work arrangements, can access challenging work assignments. It also involves capturing the experience of retiring workers within mentoring partnerships to ensure their expertise lives on in the organisation. Finally, it involves attracting women to the sector and then valuing, supporting and rewarding their contributions to the organisation to ensure they stay and grow.