The National Association of Manufacturers has forecast that more than 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled by the end of this decade. This was as of May 2021, and current supply chain and labor shortage issues are likely to accelerate this trend. Bearing the brunt of this will be the small to medium-sized manufacturers, as they compete against larger enterprises better positioned to outbid them for skilled resources. This has been one of the reasons so many small to mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) are looking to digital transformation as a way to remain competitive. Taking the initial steps toward digital transformation is not complicated, but many tier-two/three manufacturers are not leveraging their most important assets fully. Connected workers are more productive, more engaged, and less likely to seek other employment.
Gen Z and Millennials Value Technology
The current turnover in the workforce is being led by Gen Z and millennial workers. These workers are also referred to as the iGeneration (iGen) or those who have always had access to the internet. They are the very definition of connected individuals. They have been shunning manufacturing jobs in particular because they are seen as being low-tech. A recent study by Deloitte has some encouraging news but manufacturing is still not seen as a truly innovative industry. To attract younger workers, and compete against the tier one manufacturers, mid-sized manufacturers need to step up their technology profile.
Connected workers are the key to creating an engaged workforce. It has been long recognized that when workers are engaged, they are more productive. The COVID pandemic challenged many businesses in trying to keep their workforce engaged as service and white-collar jobs shifted to remote work. Manufacturers, however, usually had their employees on-site as remote work wasn’t an option, so they may feel that engagement was easily retained. The reality is that for the Gen Z and millennial workers engagement is more about connectivity than physical presence.
Leveraging the Connected Worker
Besides the direct benefits of the connected worker, mid-sized manufacturers can realize additional returns by connecting workers digitally. Gen Z and millennial workers are collaborative by nature. Being part of the IGen, they expect to be able to interact with peers to test out ideas and seek input as to decisions they need to make. Bringing that model into the workplace, albeit in a controlled mechanism, such as a digital manufacturing operations platform with collaborative features, can result in more innovation. These iGen workers place a high priority on sustainability, diversity, and inclusion as well and businesses that can attract and retain iGen workers will likely see improvement in these areas as they leverage connectivity tools in the workplace.
The greatest benefit of the connected worker is the ability to leverage key skills across the business, both geographically and vertically within the enterprise to drive process improvement. With the remainder of 2022 and 2023 looking to face continuing critical labor shortages, businesses need to leverage every worker to the fullest. Connected workers are the best hedge against turnover and ongoing labor shortages. Invest in a digital technologies that facilitate collaboration by connecting workers to ensure not just survival but profitability as a small or mid-sized manufacturer.