Top trends impacting the industrial workforce

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As industrial technology trends change and adapt in the wake of digital transformation,  I wanted to look at what’s changing for the most important asset in an industrial setting, the human workforce. It’s easy to separate human workers from technology , but this is counter intuitive. Digital transformation is there to best serve the human operator and ensure they have the tools necessary to complete their job role and have more time available for value-adding activities. Only by properly deploying technology can industry hope to close the skills gap and create a welcoming environment for the next generation.

Trend one – Digitalisation of skills
Speaking of the skills gap, this leads me to the first trend: recognising skills as a commodity. This is not just in terms of a high-value employee being valuable, but in terms of capturing and digitising those skills the same way you would with machine performance data. The skills of an ageing workforce are an amalgamation of all their on-the-job knowledge, extending far beyond traditional education and understanding explicitly how their facility operates. As this knowledge has been built up over an entire career it isn’t easily handed over in the very short training window that is given to new members of the industrial workforce.

Business leaders need to take the proactive approach to skills capture to ensure that in-situ knowledge isn’t lost from the workforce forever. It also needs to be collected and presented in a way that meets the needs of the new generation, mirroring how, as digital natives, they interact with technology in their personal lives. By viewing skills as a valuable commodity, combined with the right software choice, businesses can create a skills repository. This shifts the conversation from “improve that process, it has been done in another facility” to “look at this best practice that was applied, lets replicate that here”. This approach also streamlines the onboarding process, new employees already have a very short window to be trained up to standard and with a digital approach, a skills repository can be like having an experienced employee with new employees at all times.

A digital skills approach not only aids the onboarding of new employees but it creates a benchmark for scaling businesses, whether that is adding new products, processes, or even an entirely new facility. Owners will now have everything they need to implement the best practices of their longest standing employees, even past retirement.

Trend two – Remote management
The topic of remote working became a huge trend during the Covid-19 pandemic. As industrial businesses found themselves having to continue operating with a reduced workforce, Covid acted as a lightning rod to enable remote operations. So, why is this still a trend in 2024? Flexible working has become a permanent fixture for today’s industrial workforce, with a lot of factory work being carried out remotely.  This aligns with an expert ageing workforce wanting to ease slowly into retirement through reduced working. Similarly, the post-pandemic next-generation workforce expects flexibility when job hunting. This pushes the responsibility of enabling remote operations onto the employer themselves, who, without it, may lose out on valuable talent joining the workforce. It’s up to industry to meet these needs head on, as many of the next generation workforce will have completed their learning in a hybrid environment and have grown used to that capability.

Trend three – Artificial Intelligence
The industrial and even mainstream news is filled with stories about what artificial intelligence (AI) can do, but how does this technology relate to industrial workforce management? Modern workforce applications utilising AI have the power to evaluate and predict employee performance. Further, by looking at historic performance, AI can create personalised training programs aimed at specific employees. AI will also be able to generate reporting templates that encourage employees to provide specific details about what is going well and where they need to improve. This will improve the lives of managers who are looking to streamline productivity on the plant floor with the ability to highlight and reward key employee performance. The information collected by AI from this performance data can even be used to create an optimal profile when it comes to attracting new talent, showcasing exactly what’s needed to complete a specific job role.

On its own, these capabilities prove that AI has a role in industrial workforce management and will no doubt improve the lives of employees and managers alike. When combining the power of AI with the previous trend of digitalising skills, you are creating a system that is automatically taking the very best of employee performance and translating that into a step-by-step guide for new members to the workforce, not with AI generated content but with information recorded by the most skilled employees themselves.

Looking forward
The three trends show a very technology-focused future of industrial workforce management. As with all elements of modern industrial automation this digital transformation journey is one that must be taken. Failing to adapt to these new ways of managing the human workforce will quickly see businesses fall behind the competition, unable to reach the same level of efficiency. There is the added concern that failing to meet the digital needs of the next generation will also make business less attractive to new talent, therefore widening the skills gap and further exasperating the industry-wide issue.

AVEVA Teamwork enables the industrial workforce management excellence that these trends aim to achieve. The ground-breaking Software as a Service app digitises vital skills before they leave the workforce while reducing the time it takes to get frontline workers up to speed, all presented in a way most beneficial to the all-important human operator.

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