Skills shortages and a shrinking talent pool is not a new topic within the manufacturing industry. Finding workers is still a big issue worldwide, with figures suggesting that by 2030, the manufacturing industry could face a deficit of more than 7.9 million people, resulting in a loss in revenue of over $607 billion. It’s therefore no surprise that a key focus for the sector has been on attracting millennials—and more recently Generation Z—to fill the gaps, as well as upskilling and re-training existing staff.
Whilst enterprises often struggle to attract young workers, retaining them can be even harder. The lack of skills makes it a competitive market, meaning employers need to make sure that once they find the right candidate, the working environment and technology tools on offer make them want to stay.
However, in addition to attracting and retaining skills through technology, the industry is also undergoing a shift in leadership that could alter the technology status quo. Millennials are now finding themselves moving into executive positions, which is causing a change in perception, ideals, and adoption of technology. At the same time, we are entering a ‘new now’, where technology will play an even more crucial part in supporting business growth and success. Today’s manufacturers need to ensure they are ready to respond to a new way of working.
Coming of age
Technology provision and innovation has played a key role in helping many organisations bridge the skills gap—equipping, motivating and empowering the tech-savvy generation. But a few years into this strategy, a shift is emerging in the make-up of the workforce, and altering the evolving role of technology. The dynamics of working life are changing and millennials are finding themselves in more senior roles, able to effect real change through a native technology-focused approach to life and work.
In fact, according to a recent Forbes article, “At a time when a significant percentage of the industrial world’s current workforce is at or nearing retirement, millennials—the oldest of which will turn 38 this year—are starting to transition at a rapid rate into management positions.”
Mobile working and immediate access to data insights are expectations—even demands—of the millennial generation. Cloud-based solutions play a strategic role in helping to meet this demand, as well as mitigating IT talent shortages, by streamlining and improving efficiencies.
The impact on the shop floor
With a new generation of leaders comes new ideas and work ethics. Research by American Express, looking at the rise of millennials into senior business roles, predicts a dramatic way in which business will be done in the future. For 75 per cent of the millennial managers surveyed, successful companies of the future will see management look beyond usual business models and take a more open and collaborative approach with new partners.
As part of this, technology will become even more intrinsic to helping businesses function, remain effective, and ultimately grow. For example, mobile working and associated technologies might be a key approach to attract millennials into the manufacturing industry, but this generation will also look to take the role of mobility further, to accelerate smart factory and Industry 4.0 adoption.
In order to harness the true value and benefits of new technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and augmented reality (AR), mobile solutions will need to come to the forefront under the leadership of the millennial generation. These solutions will also be of value to entice the next generation to join the manufacturing workforce—namely Generation Z.
Alongside a more strategic role for mobile solutions, cloud-based technologies and an agile way of working will also become the norm, as forward-thinking manufacturers continue to improve responsiveness and seek a more collaborative environment. And, while millennials’ lives often revolve around the convenience and immediacy associated with technology, we are likely to see the generation that places more emphasis on the role of technology to deliver sustainability and environmental improvements. The manufacturers seen to be taking this into account will add another layer of interest to the socially-conscious younger workers just starting out in their careers.
A meeting of minds
While we are no doubt at a crossroads in manufacturing leadership and technology values, it is important not to move too quickly from what makes this industry so great. Keeping workers engaged at all levels within the sector is vital. The process of reverse mentoring can provide great benefits in aiding retention and promoting diversity. Indeed, companies including P&G and Caterpillar are among those seeing real value in pairing workers from different roles, levels, and gender, to help everyone understand new perspectives and different ways of working.
Not only can this process help bridge the skills gap, by encouraging millennials to pass on key knowledge and skills to others, but it can also improve job satisfaction among all levels. It can show all workers that, despite the changes around them, they are valued and integral to the success of the business.
Millennials and Generation Z workers are not only vital to fill much-needed skills gaps in the manufacturing sector today, but also in building a bright future for the sector, based on new approaches and ways of working. Technology will play a big part in making this happen and giving the managers and leaders of the future, the tools they need to deliver business value and growth for generations to come.
Terri Hiskey, vice president of product marketing for manufacturing, Epicor Software