Passer à la section
The modern manufacturing landscape continues to be reshaped by significant external factors, including the need for reshoring, the volatility of supply chains laid bare by global events such as the pandemic, and the persistent issue of labor shortages. These challenges have underscored the urgent necessity for manufacturers to digitally transform their operations in order to build resiliency and maintain their competitive edge.
The Current State of the Global Manufacturing Labor Shortage — and Ongoing Workforce Challenges
The manufacturing industry faces a variety of hiring challenges today, the most pressing of which is the competition for talent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the manufacturing unemployment rate hit a historic low of 1.8% in December 2022. These conditions have introduced a shift in power: Workers have the upper hand as manufacturers have to compete with each other (and in some cases, other industries) to attract and retain the top talent.
Addressing the requirements for digital transformation
Skilled workers who know the ins and outs of the industry are retiring — leaving knowledge and process gaps. At the same time, high turnover rates and shorter job tenures are becoming the norm. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 (9.8 years) was more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 years (2.8 years)” in 2022.
These conditions introduce a cycle in which manufacturers constantly have to recruit and train new talent. By leveraging digital augmentation, organizations can begin to break this cycle.
The Need to Shift From a Process-Centric to Human-Centric Approach
In light of the ongoing manufacturing labor shortage and increasingly competitive talent landscape, driving and maintaining worker engagement is critical to your long-term success. By shifting from a process-centric to human-centric approach to manufacturing, you can leverage digital tools to augment workers’ capabilities, empower informed decision-making, and continuously improve the worker experience.
Start by considering the types of conditions and opportunities different workers within your organization seek. For instance, you may want to evaluate the needs of salaried workers versus hourly workers.
Salaried workers often want to be able to take things to the next level. They want to be able to innovate and drive creative solutions to potential issues, implement changes quickly, and embrace digital tools to scale up across factories.
Meanwhile, hourly workers often want to be able to provide business value. They want to know the expectations for the job they are assigned, understand how success is defined, and have reward structures that highlight the value of their work. These workers may also want to be able to rotate through jobs via a flex workforce approach.
1. Be Strategic With Vision and Planning
The cornerstone of any successful digital transformation is a clearly articulated vision and strategy. This is all about setting specific, measurable objectives that dovetail with your business goals.
Starting off small with quick, early wins is an easy (and recommended) way to build momentum, but to grow you need a strong vision and strategy to align your organization and key stakeholders. This vision must be communicated effectively across all organizational levels, ensuring everyone from the shop floor to the boardroom is educated on not just the 'what' and ‘how,' but also the ‘why' of the transformation journey.
Aligning the transformation strategy with business operations is equally vital, ensuring that the adoption of new technologies directly contributes to and enhances the operational efficiency at each site. A clear vision serves as a guiding light, keeping all sites aligned with broader business objectives and fostering a sense of shared purpose between them.
2. Make Data the Keystone of Digital Transformation
Planning for what data you’ll need to collect and how it will be governed should be at the forefront of any digital transformation strategy. Start with determining the must-haves for data collection and structures, and ask yourself the following types of questions:
What problems are you going to solve?
How will the data be collected, structured, and analyzed?
Is consistency across all sites to enable enterprise-wide insights desired?
The answers to these questions not only prepare an organization for the challenges of scaling across multiple locations but also ensure that the data collected is meaningful and aligned with the broader strategic goals. This data will act as the basis for informed decision-making, ensuring that business decisions are based on real-world figures, rather than a pencil-whipped view of reality. Getting this right can be the difference between a successful transformation, and one that fails to realize its full potential.
3. Build an Adoption Program
Digital transformation management is hard, but developing a robust adoption program is crucial in any successful technology implementation. This consists of a group of key stakeholders from across sites and teams whose role is to guide the organization, share best practices, and develop a governance framework to effectuate their digital transformation.
The members of the adoption program play a pivotal role in ensuring stakeholder buy-in and enterprise-wide adoption, which is crucial for the success of digital transformation initiatives. It encompasses the creation of initiatives that enable personnel at various levels to engage with and fully utilize new technologies, establishing a governance framework that provides guidelines on how technology can be used, and defining roles and responsibilities.
Additionally, these efforts often include the creation of internal communities and forums for collaboration and knowledge sharing, and the implementation of processes for delivering solutions effectively. By fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation, an adoption program significantly enhances the organization's capacity to rapidly adopt new technologies, helping to drive operational excellence.
Securing and managing open systems
Once you understand the type of environment your team seeks, you can begin to identify opportunities to improve worker engagement. Start by evaluating your shop floor operations as they stand today. Consider the following questions when it comes to targets, feedback loops, and recognition:
If you go out to speak to a worker on the shop floor, do you think they’ll know their goals for the day?
When was the last time a worker’s feedback was implemented? How long did it take to implement?
Do you have a way to recognize employees who make process improvements?
By answering these questions, you’ll be able to identify ways in which you can leverage modern tools and technologies to adapt processes so that workers feel informed and engaged on a day-to-day basis. Ultimately, this type of environment will have a positive impact on both your employee retention rate and your bottom line.
Choosing the right architecture for your business
As workers want to see the impact and value of their work, developing a continuous improvement culture is critical to engagement. But what does a continuous improvement culture actually look like? Essentially, it’s an environment in which employees understand what’s expected of them — and then feel empowered, able, and willing to innovate and suggest how to improve specific processes and initiatives.
Here are some specific steps you can take to establish this kind of culture:
Update training processes on a regular basis to account for any new or evolving learnings.
Build out quality and compliance documentation so that all workers are aligned on specific requirements.
Establish a skills matrix to set goals and track progress.
Define standard work process and feedback loops so that workers know how and when to make suggestions for improvement.
Create an infrastructure that highlights how and when employee feedback is implemented. A reward system or gamification could be worth exploring here.
How to Develop a Culture of Continuous Improvement That Drives Engagement
When it comes to training management specifically, there is a standard, basic workflow that involves defining skills, tracking training status, defining refresher requirements, having training content for workers new to a process, and establishing just-in-time trainings. While these steps can technically be done on paper, digitizing this workflow can drive valuable new efficiencies by increasing the speed and consistency of training.
For instance, you can use digital work instructions apps to provide visual guidance on how to perform tasks — ultimately leading to fewer errors. As these types of apps are easy to update, you can ensure your frontline workers always have the latest instructions at their fingertips. This type of digital infrastructure provides real-time visibility across the shop floor — allowing you to eliminate potential bottlenecks and more easily track process and cycle time, which helps drive continuous improvement.
Charting the Path Ahead
Navigating the intricacies of multi-site technology deployment demands strategic foresight, collaborative effort, and an in-depth understanding of both local and enterprise contexts. But, by integrating the best practices outlined above, you can effectively tackle the challenges that come with such an endeavor.
Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that digital transformation is not just a buzzword to be thrown around in meetings or relegated to a pilot program at a single site, but is instead a tangible reality that drives operational excellence and growth across all sites in your business. This journey, while demanding, promises a future of enhanced agility, resilience, and efficiency — allowing your business to stay ahead of the competition.
Turning Your Workforce into Your Competitive Advantage
Read our ebook for insights on how a shift from a process-centric to a human-centric mindset can help you solve your most pressing operational challenges.