By Holly Burgess, Technical Lead, Industrial and Safety, NFPA
The manufacturing industry has always been about pushing boundaries and staying ahead of the curve. With ongoing advancements in technology, it is critical for companies to embrace job-enabling technologies and digital transformation. Yet, many organizations are still heavily reliant on old school pen and paper methods—making it difficult to effectively address some of the industry’s biggest challenges.
There are countless ways that manufacturing, and the skilled trades at large, can leverage digital transformation to become more productive, safe, and ultimately more competitive in the market. Below are several avenues that organizations can explore with digital transformation to tackle two of the biggest challenges facing manufacturing today: the need for job-enabling technology and the gap in training and knowledge transfer amid labor shortages.
The Desire for Job-Enabling Technology
Job-enabling technology implemented in day-to-day tasks can help improve accuracy, efficiency, and safety—and the need for digital transformation has become increasingly important in today’s fast-paced and demanding workplace.
There’s an appetite from employees for digital adoption: a recent NFPA survey found that 68% of skilled workers want to work with different, non-traditional tools on the jobsite, and 25% believe a lack of these tools will be a top challenge in 2023. Few things are more frustrating than having to go through an outdated process with the knowledge that there are far more tech-savvy options available. Therefore, it’s important that organizations invest in the newest technology to streamline daily tasks, thus empowering employees of all ages and experience levels to be as efficient and accurate as possible.
Take collaboration as one use case, especially considering 40% of skilled workers believe the biggest opportunity for technology to improve their day-to-day work on the jobsite is in ease of communication between team members. In manufacturing, there are tiered levels of command, from supervisors and managers to the people on the floor, and it can be difficult to have visibility and open communication between these levels. Within online, interactive hubs, workers can access all the information they need from one device, take future-proofed notes, and share knowledge with colleagues across multiple devices, eliminating the need to carry heavy textbooks and paperwork. This technology is particularly useful for those who spend most of their days in the field traveling from one location to another.
Digital Training is Key Amid Lull in Hiring
Labor shortages and employee turnover are two of the biggest issues facing the manufacturing industry right now. In fact, the NFPA survey found that 45% of skilled workers believed a shortage of qualified employees would be their biggest challenge at work in 2023. The same survey also found that 42% of respondents anticipated their budgets would focus on increased hiring to replace or add jobs in 2023, emphasizing the need for accessible training amongst teams struggling with hiring challenges.
Digital-first training models can provide value and accessibility amid these challenges. There are many benefits of digital training models, including the ability for employees to complete the training at their own pace. The flexibility of online training means that employees can take courses in smaller increments, such as during lunch breaks or while sitting in the control room, instead of having to come into work and complete training after already working a long shift. This helps to reduce stress and allows for better information retention.
This streamlining eliminates the need for companies to interrupt manufacturing processes in order to train employees. Online training also empowers supervisors to better document, organize, and standardize mission-critical training as compared to the binder-full-of-trainings approach.
Another important way to upskill employees is by retaining generational knowledge amid mass retirements. In non-digital setting, there is no place to document the knowledge of employees who have been in the industry for decades. This wisdom learned through experience, including mistakes made and lessons learned, is often something that can’t be found in a textbook. Digital tools, however, can create a centralized repository of institutional knowledge that new employees can leverage. This way, organizations can ensure that knowledge doesn’t leave the institution when employees retire, and future generations are set up for professional development and success.
The Bottom Line
Across all industries, work is becoming increasingly digital—and for good reason. In the manufacturing world, digital transformation can help organizations tackle some of today’s biggest industry needs: job-enabling tech and comprehensive training and upskilling models. We’re certainly trending in the right direction, with 28% of skilled workers anticipating their organization’s budget will emphasize updating manual or outdated equipment in 2023. By choosing the right digital tools, manufacturing organizations are empowered to enhance collaboration, improved efficiency, and gain a competitive edge.
About the Author:
Holly serves as the Technical Lead for Industrial and Chemical Safety at NFPA, and has over 20 years of experience in safety, health, and environmental protection across various industries. Her educational background includes an associate degree from the University of Kentucky as well as bachelor’s and masters’ degrees in Occupational Health and Safety from Murray State University. Holly is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals.
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