November/December 2020 | Vol. 25 No. 6
by Gail Norris, U.S. Lead, Digital Industry Academy, Siemens Industry, Inc.
Like the rest of the working world, manufacturers are operating during a global pandemic and under the gun. Running a plant at half capacity is a logistical nightmare and brings up many questions. How do we identify the right skills needed each day? How do we gauge an employee’s current skill level? What happens when something breaks down, and there is only one maintenance tech who knows how to fix that problem? How do employers help their employees keep current with technology that is changing every two years?
These questions are essential to ask, even when the world isn’t in a pandemic, but manufacturers today face new and unforeseen pressures. Just months ago, remote working, mask-wearing, social distancing, and contact tracing were seldom discussed, let alone understood. Now they have become the manufacturing norm.
Even with these new challenges, some companies are not only surviving in 2020 but also thriving. Their shared secret to success is quickly adapting to changes by following three simple yet effective learning strategies. First, they invest in workforce planning to optimize employee performance in the near term and beyond. Next, these forward-thinking companies focus on specific employee digital skillsets to enhance production efficiencies and output. Finally, they embrace a culture of lifelong learning that will prepare them for the next challenge waiting around the corner.
Invest in Workforce Planning
Most of the workforce is digitally challenged, even though companies have been anticipating the digital skills gap for years. Despite that, manufacturers have deployed a host of digital solutions on the shop floor to meet the digital world’s reality. To get the most out of digital technology now is the time to introduce workforce planning, or overall organization development, into the manufacturing environment.
“Unfortunately, predicting and committing to a defined set of future skills leads organizations to focus on the wrong skills,” Gartner found in its 2020 Shifting Skills Survey for HR Executives. “In fact, when HR leaders take a predictive approach to managing shifting skills, employees apply only 37 percent of the new skills they learn.”
Understanding employee skills needs and status at the micro and macro levels are necessary to develop a successful workforce plan. The plan should consider where skill levels need to be in three to five years and where each employee’s skill levels are today. This planning allows for successful upskilling in an environment of change and upheaval. Knowing where today’s desired skills lie provides for efficient utilization of these employees in the near term.
To evaluate the competency gap key drivers are analyzed:
At the same time, this approach takes a long view of employee development and skills acquisition and becomes a living process in the environment. Managers should also conduct annual reviews of projected skills, and strategic visioning must occur to anticipate emerging skill requirements accurately.
Focus on Specific Skills Needed
Only those manufacturing organizations that begin their digital transformation will survive over the next 10 to 20 years. In this rapidly changing world, digitalization delivers the operational efficiencies customization requested by customers. Only through the automation of processes and the ability to rapidly alter outputs will these outcomes be realized.
Manufacturers should reskill and upskill the personnel who run these automated lines as well. They must plan generational changeout and ensure that current employees are continually dialed into digital upskilling and reskilling options to enhance operational productivity and optimize the gains from hire to retire. Employees entering the workforce should understand the new skills required and learn the company culture, manufacturing logistics, and workflow.
The ability to digitally configure new lines, test retooling of existing lines, and virtually commission both of those lines are skillsets required of most manufacturing engineers. These skills are also evolving and developing on an ongoing basis. As a result, manufacturers must revisit them regularly to take advantage of emerging talents coming with the next digital evolution.
Understandably, workers won’t achieve skills in a single class. Training success requires an ongoing effort over a multiyear period. Discussing the skillsets needed for the future by engaging a digitalization partner is key to getting this training right. This partner can assist in the digital change out as well as competently upskill employees.
Lifelong Learning Culture
A lifelong learning culture requires constant attention to emerging didactic content, new delivery methods, and practical teaching tools. Focusing on employee flexibility can ensure ongoing relevancy for both workers and the organization.
Concept introductions, in-depth, hands-on training, ongoing performance assist tools, and refreshers can give employees opportunities to learn at their own pace and in their environment. Most employees desire this type of customized approach to learning, and they want just-in-time tools that help them remember and utilize their skills at a specific point in time, such as on the machine side.
At the same time, it is up to management to instill a customized and intriguing learning environment on the digital shop floor to keep the operation at the leading edge. As Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
The same is true for manufacturers. A company that ignores the importance of a learning culture during a time of change does so at its peril. Charles Darwin warned, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
Learning Equals Productivity
By embracing these three employee educational strategies, manufacturers are making the most of a challenging global pandemic. Investing in workforce planning, focusing on the digital future, and prioritizing a culture of lifelong learning make companies better prepared for work absenteeism. They will know who has the digital skills to operate a particular process. When operational issues occur, multiple people can fix the problems, not just one maintenance tech.
Siemens addresses these productivity gaps with our customers through our Digital Industry Academy offerings. Our philosophy is to provide a holistic approach to gap closure, with multiple learning modalities and various position and experience levels. This approach allows the employee to choose the learning content and method most suitable for them.
Investing in an annually updated workforce planning model serves as a living framework from which companies can make all employment decisions. Commit to skills-based talent acquisition, onboarding, and orientation; a three- to five-year employee learning plan; and a continuous learning culture that prizes ongoing skills and knowledge acquisition. The result of proper didactical execution is reliable and profitable manufacturing productivity, even during the toughest times. ei