Navigating the Digital Transformation & Talent Challenge

Navigating the Digital Transformation & Talent Challenge

If you ask a manufacturing executive to describe their biggest challenge, they will probably say it’s attracting and retaining labor. The labor shortage has proved to be a significant concern for all manufacturers. But, perhaps the struggle is felt most acutely by manufacturers who were resistant to automation and the digital transformation.

A 2018 report from Deloitte estimates that 2.6 million Baby Boomers will be retiring from the manufacturing industry over the next 10 years. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the unemployment rate in the manufacturing sector is at 9.1 percent despite an aggressive $14M recruiting campaign from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). It’s time for a new, long-term approach to talent challenges. And, the digital transformation of our industry will have a huge impact on how and who we hire.

The labor shortage hasn’t only been hard on employers. It has also had a negative impact on the employees who feel overwhelmed because of regularly understaffed shifts. By automating repetitive, monotonous tasks employees are free to take on work that might require creativity or problem-solving. Relieving employees from mindless work often results in higher employee job satisfaction and can ultimately boost productivity as well as employee retention.

Transitioning the Workforce

Thanks to automation and the digital transformation, a new type of workforce is needed. Of course, investing in recruiting will always be necessary but perhaps the more important investment is in employee development. Creating an in-house education program is a must for any employer concerned with the Baby Boomer mass exodus.

Offering both online and hands-on curriculum is essential for the program to be successful. It’s also important to identify individuals who have the aptitude to learn and are likely to stay with the company. These individuals can be part of transition planning. A mentor or buddy program can be incredibly helpful to ensure newer employees acclimate quickly to your company culture. And, career-progression planning can be offered to employees of varying levels, which in turn helps with employee engagement. It is also worth offering Baby Boomers a more flexible, or even part-time schedule while new employees are developing the needed skills. This could mean the difference in a smooth transition of skills or experiencing an unnecessary disruption.

A New Approach to Hiring

As the open manufacturing positions become more and more technical, companies will need to take a different approach to hiring. Developing strategic partnerships with Wisconsin universities and technical colleges has been incredibly helpful for our organization. We’ve developed productive and meaningful relationships with UW-Platteville, Fox Valley Technical College, UW-Oshkosh, Gateway Technical College, and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. We’re fortunate to be based in a state with a top-notch university program and high-quality technical colleges. It’s hard to overstate the value these relationships can bring. When we identify students who are a solid fit, we often offer entry-level positions with a flexible schedule so they can balance both school and work while finishing their program. By offering internships and co-operative programs to students at local technical and high schools, we are able to build a talent pipeline.

Outreach & Image Efforts

The stereotypical image of the manufacturing industry can also present a challenge when attempting to attract talent. Organizing tours and open house events help showcase just how much the industry has evolved. This past August, we hosted our latest open house. We invited customers, suppliers, employees’ families, and prospective employees. It allowed candidates to get a more accurate representation of modern manufacturing and their prospective work environment. We’ve also welcomed high school students to tour our operation to give a better understanding of the advancements being made in our industry. The old perception of manufacturing being boring is often debunked after a demonstration of how our team works with advanced technologies in Thermal Fluid Process Control, Web Handling, and Robotics. There is a great benefit in helping students better understand how technology has changed our industry.

The digital transformation has provided a lot of opportunity but also a good deal of challenges. It has allowed us to automate jobs that were going unfilled and reduce our reliance on unskilled labor. However, it also presents a new challenge of creating and developing the workforce that we need today and will need in years to come. How well we navigate the digital transformation and corresponding talent challenge will determine our organization’s overall success.

Do you have questions about industrial automation? Would you like to connect? Email us at [email protected] 

About the Author

Terry Brei is the President and sole proprietor of Sure Controls Inc in Greenville, WI. His passion is empowering those around him to think creatively and find their “why”. From a young age, Terry appreciated the value of hard work. He was born and raised on a dairy farm less than 10 miles from Sure Controls. He left home to pursue his education, receiving his mechanical engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Throughout his career, he has held several engineering and industrial management positions before joining Sure Controls in 2014. Terry lives in Hortonville, WI with his wife Emily, his son Reno, daughter Nova and his four-legged family members, Finley, Izzy, Harley and Calli.

I am the Electromechanical Manager at Sure Controls with a passion for delivering smiles to receive smiles. At Sure Controls we are passionate about helping keep Manufacturers competitive in the United States, specifically in the great state of WI. We have an extensive team of highly qualified experts looking to help improve safety, quality, and, efficiency. Our core competencies are focused on applications & markets requiring Thermal Process Control, Web Handling, and Robotics & Motion Control. My passion for automation extends into my passions for anything with an engine, running, and most importantly spending time with my family.

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