The manufacturing industry seems to always be abuzz with news of exciting technological advancements. Some already realized like industrial grade computers and automation, and some still on the way such as the rich internet of things infrastructure promised by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Of course, potential for transformations like these hardly deliver results if the right efforts aren’t made to cultivate it. 

And unfortunately, until the manufacturing industry can address a single, very pressing issue, it won’t be able to realize the bright and rosy future new technologies have paved for it. And that issue is a surprising skilled labor shortage. 

What’s Behind the Skilled Labor Shortage?

Contrary to what many believed, technologies like automation and AI have created more jobs than they’ve made obsolete. Normally, this would be great news. The main problem now is that the rise in available jobs isn’t being met with proportional enthusiasm to fill those jobs. According to a study by Deloitte, it’s predicted that if this trend sticks, it could be leaving close to 2.4 million jobs unfilled by 2028. So what’s going on behind the scenes here? 

An Aging Workforce

You’ve probably already heard of the statistic, courtesy of Pew Research Center, stating that 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 10 years. And if you haven’t, decision makers in the manufacturing industry sure have because that’s their primary workforce that’s rapidly aging into retirement.  

Normally, that workforce would be replenished with new generations of workers aging into the position. However, with Baby Boomers aging out and Millennials becoming the most represented generation in the workforce, that phenomenon doesn’t seem to be taking place. 

Millennials just don’t seem to have patience for a manufacturing industry they believe is antiquated and equipped with poor enterprise technology since their daily lives already consist of liberal use of advanced tech such as AI, AR, IoT and more. 

A Higher Learning Curve

It’s not just the age of workers that’s increasing, it’s the level of skill needed to work in an industry that’s constantly introducing newer and newer specialized technology. As new tools and equipment are brought into the fold, manufacturers need workers that are tech-savvy and able to quickly learn how to operate them, shrinking the already limited pool of qualified applicants. 

This increasing importance placed on tech fluency only further emphasizes the importance of the Millennial workforce since they’ve been exposed to tech usage from early childhood. 

And so, when analyzing these two major contributors, the way to treat this skilled labor shortage becomes rather apparent. Decision makers in manufacturing plants need to work the right technology into the way their facilities conduct business. Doing so will keep new hires happy with their new positions, optimize business, and break the stigma of the “outdated manufacturing industry” that keeps new Millennial workers at bay. 

So, what tech is best equipped to handle that task?

1. E-Learning

Modernizing your learning and development initiatives can help retain new hires while also addressing the skills gap we mentioned earlier. Promising employees need to be brought in and nurtured, taught the skills they need to become full-fledged, contributing members of the factory floor. Unfortunately, finding someone with the teaching chops necessary to impart those skills isn’t easy. Furthermore, having someone take on that responsibility, even if it’s only temporary, takes hands off the floor and decreases productivity. 

An E-learning program, instead, uses digital tools to train employees, simultaneously freeing up other workers who would normally take up the mantle of “teacher.” This also incorporates tech in a way that appeals to the newly entering and younger workforce.         

E-learning can take many forms: a series of videos highlighting important procedures, an online catalog or training module, or any other online asset that removes the need for another employee to divert attention from their primary responsibilities. 

Of course, this doesn’t give you free reign to digitize every procedure. Some things, such as operating heavy machinery, simply demand real experience or one-on-one training. It’s up to you and your familiarity with your factory floor to determine which procedures absolutely require a human touch.    

2. Collaborative Tools

Collaborative workplaces are a major draw for Millennials. In fact, 88% of Millennials prefer a collaborative work culture over one that’s more solitary and competitive. In order to capitalize on this value of your new target workforce, tools and software that facilitate that collaborative environment can go a long way. 

Consider something along the lines of a department forum or chat programs that allow quick communication between employees. Programs like Slack, for example, allow for instant messaging, file transferring, and a message search function that ensures month-old files can be pulled up at a moment’s notice. 

Project management software like Basecamp and ProofHub are also powerful tools that can be used to closely track projects, delegate tasks, and create shared to-do lists. Tools such as these are great for giving management a closer look at the work being performed on the floor while also giving employees an easy-to-navigate base of operations from which they can plan projects with their teams. 

3. The Right Industrial Tablet

One of the most defining characteristics of Millennials and Gen-Zers is their saturation with new technology. According to Pew Research Center, more than 9 in 10 of both generations own smartphones and over half own smart tablets. 

Naturally, when the goal is to entice innovative new hires from these generations to enter your workforce, efforts should focus on providing tech they’re familiar with such as laptops, tablets, and more. And while office jobs can get away with consumer level electronics, more volatile workplaces such as those found in manufacturing require a more tailored solution.   

Rugged industrial tablets are an ideal blend between technology newer generations have already been exposed to and hardware built to last in a manufacturing setting. The right model will be built with military-grade parts, allowing it to survive drops, and carry an IP65 rating that ensures it’s protected from debris such as dust and moisture. 

Working with a manufacturer that lets you customize your individual units can also give you access to a built-in barcode scanner perfect for asset tracking and inventory management. 

Furthermore, a tablet’s portability allows for employees to integrate it regularly into their workflow while its connectivity allows them to collaborate with team members through the messaging and project management applications we mentioned earlier. 

Breaking the Stigma While Improving Productivity

The manufacturing industry has an image issue. Many believe factory floors are dreary, stuck-in-their-ways environments where employees are sequestered and forced to perform menial labor 8 hours a day. And this couldn’t be further from the truth! 

Learning how to blend in the right tech and company philosophies can help fix this image and bring in new, bright-minded talent that could truly re-invigorate the manufacturing workforce. For more information on how you can start to combat the skilled labor shortage, contact an expert from Cybernet today.