Manufacturing is at a turning point. At a time when we walk around with supercomputers in our pockets,
plants that have been around for decades are still operating like the world hasn’t changed.
Sure, there are many businesses undergoing digital transformation, but the perception remains that manufacturing is dark and dirty. And together, with business laggards and this pervasive image problem, manufacturing is being put to a major stress test.
The industry knew there was a double skills gap caused by Baby Boomers retiring and a lack of skilled young people to fill the jobs. But as a new Deloitte-Manufacturing Institute study shows, the situation is worse than we thought. More than 4.6 million manufacturing jobs need to be filled in the next decade; roughly half of those vacancies will be caused by the gray wave leaving the workforce. The rest of the jobs will be created through projected economic growth. But the study predicts that, with the current skills level of the existing labor force and lack of interest in manufacturing from younger workers, more than half of those jobs could go unfilled.
What does this mean?
Manufacturers need to change. This image of the industry being unsexy and antiquated will require a total buy-in from the top to the bottom of operations. Plants can start by considering what they are doing to attract, hire and train workers.
The first class of Generation Z has just graduated from college. This generation is different than any that has come before because these students have grown up surrounded by computers, smart TVs and smart phones—phones that have more computing power than the computers used to put a man on the moon.
They are used to having easy access to everything and don’t understand workarounds and complicated procedural steps. One easy trap to fall into is to blame it on the kids and badmouth them. But remember this number: 2.4 million. That’s the number of jobs expected to go unfilled from now until 2028, according to the Deloitte study.
So, how can manufacturers transform their image?
Change with the times. And one way to do that is to know your audience. What has this generation grown up with? Computer and videogames. Incorporating those elements into operations can attract (and retain) a whole new generation of workers.
Gamification has gotten a lot of buzz in the retail world as a way to encourage consumers to interact with a brand while they are having fun. However, businesses are folding in these techniques to onboard and engage their employees. Take, for instance, Walmart. In preparing its workforce for the holiday season, the retail-giant rolled out virtual reality headsets to enable employees to get a real-world feel of the sights and sounds of a holiday-crowd rush. The simulated training not only increased retention rates, but also garnered a huge response from their employees, reportedly lining up to train.
Other gamification activities could include leaderboards and point systems as well as awarding merit badges and other rewards. Using gamification can help employers build their workers’ critical-thinking skills, such as troubleshooting electrical circuits. When introducing new protocols or teaching new employees SOPs, leveraging gamification can make employees experience learning as fun. As for retraining existing employees, using competition among individuals or groups can be a motivation tool and encourage them to put their new skills to work.
Managers can track employees’ learning progress and reward them when they have achieved their goals. This can help to inspire other employees to participate and gain more skills themselves.
And before a new hire even sets foot in the door, gamification methods can be used to screen and hire the right kind of candidate. Organizations won’t have to waste money and time interviewing unqualified job applicants when they can, instead, send a prospect a game that can effectively assess and prove whether the candidate has the skill level to perform the job tasks.
The world has changed, and manufacturing must change with it. If not, many companies will not survive. Game on!
Samer Forzley is CEO of Simutech Multimedia