Stuck between a soon-to-be retired workforce and a cohort of young engineers and operators with comparatively less experience, manufacturers are in a bind. They have job openings, but can’t find qualified people to fill them.
While the general public believes that all of the manufacturing jobs are going away, unemployment figures tell a different story. Since 2011, manufacturing unemployment has been lower than overall unemployment, sometimes by wide margins.
Exacerbating the issue is the skills gap, which means the jobs that employers need filled require skills that most of the unemployment pool doesn’t have. Manufacturers need highly skilled engineers and machine operators, but often times it’s those without this required skill set that are looking for work.
The result is that almost every factory I visit has open engineering positions and is struggling to run their business with a workforce that’s smaller than ideal.
One of the solutions to this conundrum is technology. Industry 4.0 technologies amplify the contributions of every employee, from the highest skilled engineer to the entry-level operator, increasing their productivity, so manufacturers can do more with fewer employees. Here’s how it helps address each aspect of manufacturers’ workforce problem.
Institutionalizing intellectual property
The trouble with having a talented, older workforce is that your company becomes dependent on them to maintain your intellectual property. These employees have tremendous domain knowledge about your manufacturing processes and recipes, which is the IP that differentiates your product from your competitors. If that knowledge is not recorded, analyzed and understood across the organization, and if you don’t have a process in place to effectively transfer it to young engineers, your company is at risk.
By adopting more data-driven practices and principles, you address two aspects of this problem. First, by transferring domain knowledge from the workforce to the manufacturing system, your domain experts can more effectively access and use it. This means the manufacturing system will augment the deep knowledge and skill of experienced engineers and operators, so they become even more productive.
Second, once you’ve captured the domain knowledge and made it instantly available through advanced manufacturing systems, employees throughout the company also gain access to it, fostering a culture of data transparency.
Attracting young high-skilled talent
Recruiting young, skilled talent has become increasingly difficult as the pool of young engineers and skilled workers seeking manufacturing jobs is unfortunately small. Most engineers are educated at universities in the cities, far away from manufacturing in both geographical distance and awareness. They aren’t exposed to how rewarding a career solving manufacturing challenges can be.
But manufacturing is high-tech, and your facility must demonstrate that to potential recruits. Updating your factory tooling, automation and software with the latest industry 4.0 technologies will help attract the young talent that has grown up with digital technologies and are extremely computer savvy.
Investing in data solutions and technologies comes with a bonus benefit for the lower skilled operators on a factory floor. As domain knowledge of the highly skilled engineers and manufacturing professionals is collected and maintained in manufacturing systems, lower skilled operators gain access to it. This also addresses two issues.
First, the difficulty of learning highly specialized processes contributes to high turnover among new employees. With knowledge built into the system, new hires can learn more quickly, so they don’t get discouraged and quit.
Second, once trained on the fundamentals of the process, operators can leverage the digital technology to learn from the system, increasing their skills to the benefit of themselves and the company.
The power of first-mover advantage
Even as they struggle to fill talent gaps, manufacturers are wasting the talent they have on staff. One study found that manufacturing engineers spend roughly 30% of their time looking for information. Think about that. You’re paying a high salary for very skilled engineers who should be spending their time solving problems and improving processes and products. Instead they are digging through old systems that require more time to extract data.
Industry 4.0 technologies eliminate the time-wasting search, making data and information immediately available while instantly helping to address your workforce challenges.
Research services provided by Patricia Panchak.