Three Ways to Better Engage Frontline Employees in Manufacturing

Just as the industrial revolution spurred an economic boom worldwide, the digitalization of manufacturing, also known as Industry 4.0, is inspiring a new round of innovation and growth everywhere.

The presence of smart machines in factories is becoming mainstream, and the adoption of AI-enabled technologies is more the norm. Deloitte already estimates that such changes will require new types of workers. Over the next decade, it is estimated that nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled in the US alone. But companies and economies are struggling to keep up with demand.

The digitalization of manufacturing means new skills in technology, data science, and engineering are now required from employees. As the years pass, there will be a widening skills gap between what workers know and what companies need.

Interest in manufacturing jobs is also waning. Only 3 out of 10 Americans say they will recommend a manufacturing job to their kids. A job in the manufacturing industry is not a top-of-mind choice for many, especially for the younger generation.

It also doesn’t help that the pandemic highlighted how people working on the frontlines, including in the manufacturing sector, can be underappreciated. Fewer than 5 in 10 Americans believe manufacturing jobs are interesting, rewarding, clean, safe, stable, and secure. It also doesn’t help that the pandemic highlighted how people working on the frontlines, including in the manufacturing sector, can be underappreciated. Fewer than 5 in 10 Americans believe manufacturing jobs are interesting, rewarding, clean, safe, stable, and secure.

These challenges show that organizations must strengthen their employee engagement and retention to stay ahead of the game. Here are three ways of doing just that.

Go digital

According to the World Economic Forum, 80% of frontline manufacturing workers still rely on paper to follow instructions and track their tasks. This inefficiency is not just a potential turn-off for young, digitally-savvy workers — it also hurts an organization’s bottom line. Workers can lose a lot of time manually filling out forms or thumbing through handbooks when an automated system could have easily accomplished the same task in minutes.

According to McKinsey, a select number of manufacturers that underwent digital transformation already enjoy:

  1. 30 to 50 percent reductions of machine downtime 
  2. 15 to 30 percent improvements in labor productivity 
  3. 10 to 30 percent increases in throughput
  4. 10 to 20 percent decreases in the cost of quality

Make manufacturing exciting again

Digitally-enabled companies continue to prove they have the edge over those who aren’t. A survey from Parsable reveals that 45% of frontline manufacturing workers across five countries — the US, Germany, France, Spain and the UK — say “the opportunity to work in a more modern digital environment would be part of their decision to leave their current employer.”

Fortunately, manufacturing firms now have the luxury to choose from a wide variety of digital tools and platforms. This ensures their frontline workers enjoy the advantage of going digital and being better connected to colleagues and resources.

One of the tools that can have an immediate impact is an employee experience platform such as LiveTiles Reach. This platform helps frontline manufacturing workers connect with peers and managers — both for work and social connections — through a mobile-first application that is available across multiple devices simultaneously.

This ease of access is paramount for engaging frontline manufacturing workers who are often on their feet all day. As we state in one of our studies on engaging frontline employees, frontliners need to soak in company culture and have a strong sense of community wherever they are.

Adopt a growth mindset

With ordinary tasks co-managed with machines, frontline manufacturing employees can now focus on more important work. The Conversation said frontline manufacturing workers’ ability to teach or work alongside robots and AI will become the most valued component of their skill base by 2030.

Organizations must then ensure workers can easily access upskilling seminars and sessions, which can also be done through an employee experience platform like LiveTiles Reach. As we emphasize in our study, putting learning in the hands of employees encourages them to take up learning options that support both their career and personal development.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of the manufacturing sector—from their role in keeping supply chains going, to ensuring essential goods are produced and delivered on time. It is now up to organizations to future-proof their industry and drive greater engagement and inclusion for their essential employees.

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