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Promoting engagement, retention in changing IT/OT workforce

Nov. 24, 2023
Many manufacturing companies are considering the employee life cycle and transforming the work experience to better support their people, partly due to trends leftover from the pandemic.

According to a recent global survey by Deloitte, employee engagement and retention are among the leading challenges faced by organizations, including manufacturers, today. In February 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 4.4 million people left their jobs—many moving on to find better pay and greater work-life balance.

While compensation and remote opportunities continue to be important to job seekers, so too is working for an employer who aligns with their personal goals and values. Job seekers are looking for an employer who fosters a modern work culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. For today’s workforce, this means seeking companies with higher purpose and values that support their people.

See also: Contracted tech workers paid less than regular IT staff, report finds

Companies that are deeply listening to what matters most to today’s workforce—industrial IT and OT among them—are modernizing, revitalizing, and transforming their cultures and leading with purpose.

Some, including Emerson, have even developed intentional frameworks to reimagine their organizations and commit to meaningful employee experiences. How we choose to engage and work with our people in their first year can determine how long they choose to stay.

Here are five ways that manufacturing companies can lead with purpose to better support their people, transform the employee experience, and promote engagement and retention:

Providing flexibility

Today’s job candidates, specifically those looking to fill roles beyond the factory floor, often will not engage with an employer who doesn’t offer a hybrid work option.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, traditionally on-site roles have become increasingly remote. As a result, employers are having to rethink how they engage and work with employees—both remote and hybrid (those who are sometimes remote, sometimes on-site)—especially during the first year. Many companies see their highest turnover in years zero through three, which means they must focus more attention on onboarding strategies and support for remote and hybrid employees.

To stay competitive and attract new talent, companies may also need to assess individual roles within their organizations and identify which are appropriate for hybrid or remote performance.

This new work policy must factor in an employee’s physical environment as well as the scheduling, tools, and processes required to do the job both on- and off-site. The goal is to find the common ground between what employees define as essential to their well-being and what their employer defines as successfully fulfilling the responsibilities of the role.

Investing in education and training

With the continuing exodus of retiring engineers, industrial and manufacturing companies are getting smarter about capturing and transferring the expertise preparing to walk out the door.

These companies are providing in-house training and taking advantage of available resources, such as vendor training materials, application-based web tools, and live online support, to help bridge the gap between knowledge and experience.

Two new education and training strategies are also proving fruitful in the effort to frontload the skills and readiness of new hires: hiring for competencies and designing intentional internships.

See also: How smart industrial technology factors into ESSA, corporate culture

In the past, employers frequently hired engineers based largely on their years of experience. But as seasoned engineers retire and the numbers left behind poised to take their place have dwindled, a new approach to hiring emerged that better leverages the talents less experienced engineers.

Instead of evaluating engineers based on years under the belt, employers are shifting attention to candidate competencies and enhancing those key skills and attributes with training and mentoring.

Another tactic that shifted to focus on engagement and retention is the internship. The old internship stereotype involved companies hiring students, typically for a summer or a semester, and “keeping them busy.”

Now, in the wake of the pandemic and continuing competition for skilled labor, companies are becoming much more intentional about their internship programs because they see them for what they really are: an opportunity to attract, engage, and potentially hire the next generation of employees.

Supporting technical talent

Engagement and retention strategies for technical personnel like engineers and IT must be tailored to address the unique challenges and motivations of these professionals. Technical talent typically thrives on solving complex problems and working on innovative projects. Providing opportunities to work on cutting-edge technologies or groundbreaking projects can be a significant motivator.

In addition, allowing technical talent to have a degree of autonomy in how they approach their work and make decisions can lead to higher job satisfaction and a sense of ownership over their projects. Including technical talent in decision-making processes, especially those that affect their work or the direction of projects, can enhance their engagement and commitment to the organization.

See also: New research sees buy-in for digital transformation growing among manufacturing stakeholders

Technology is also a fast-changing field. Engineers, IT, and other technical talent in industrial OT and IT should have opportunities for continuous learning, certifications, and industry conferences so personnel can stay engaged and up to date with the latest trends and technologies. Clear career progression paths and growth opportunities within an organization also can motivate technical talent to stay put and grow.

Well-being and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives

Work flexibility isn’t the only way employers are expected to care for their people, and the expectation of caring goes well beyond the needs of the employees.

The past two years have shined a spotlight on many issues related to individual and collective well-being. Dealing with mental health crises and the stress of the pandemic, plus confronting larger social issues such as racism and inequality, have caused people at all levels of the workforce to reevaluate how and where they spend their time and energy.

These issues are producing workers that expect their employers to recognize their needs as whole people within society, not just as an employee within a building or a home office. For employers, this means providing support and resources for individual wellness and family needs, as well as committing to larger initiatives that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Supporting our communities

Supporting collective well-being extends into the local community. Companies that support social services, charities, and community improvement projects through donations, scholarships, fundraisers and volunteer time are often viewed more favorably by job candidates.

Involvement and investment in the community also builds relationships and attracts members of the local workforce who are more likely to align with company values and culture. For large companies, community outreach can help humanize their brand as well.

“Communities” also includes the physical places themselves. With a heightened awareness of climate change, depleting natural resources and other environmental issues, workers today are increasingly looking to their employers as an extension of their own ideals and to their environmental stewardship. This expectation is particularly high for manufacturing and industrial companies, which often are the focus of negative news about waste, pollution, and environmental misdeeds.

See also: How digital tools change the game for decarbonization

To embrace corporate responsibility in ways that better align with the expectations of potential job candidates, companies are making more observable, measurable efforts toward sustainability.

These sustainability efforts happen both in their own operations and by aiding customers with personal sustainability goals as they relate to the products and services their companies supply.

Workers also expect evidence of sustainability beyond the company itself. This prompts companies to evaluate sustainability in other areas of their business such as supply chains and material sourcing. In addition, companies can look for opportunities for local and global partnerships with other companies and organizations that can help advance their sustainability efforts.

Breaking new ground

Amid great waves of hiring and quitting, candidate expectations are changing, and it’s up to employers to change along with them if they want to keep the workers they have today and secure a stronger workforce tomorrow.

Companies that are serious about engaging and retaining talent are making sweeping changes to the ways that they hire, train, and support employees and to the ways they engage with their local and global communities to promote sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

See also: Gen-AI leads back to reducing downtime on the line

Ultimately, it’s up to employers to find ways to lead with purpose and support employees both on the job and in their lives outside of work. Company leadership must lead with empathy and create a space where employees feel safe expressing how they are doing, even when it appears to have nothing to do with their role at work.

Listening to and caring for employees in this way can be a major contributor to overall job satisfaction and the single most important factor in an employee’s long-term retention.

About the Author

Deanna Johnson

Deanna Johnson is director of global communication, discrete automation, for Emerson, which is a global technology, software, and engineering company for customers in industrial and commercial markets.