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A look at industrial-workforce needs in 2020

Jan. 17, 2020
Solutions for three key workforce challenges in 2020.

By Paige Marie Morse, industry marketing director for chemicals at Aspen Technology

Some of the world’s most entrenched industries have long relied on a seemingly unending pipeline of workforce talent to replenish workers who retire or transition out of their roles. Younger generations of talent eventually obtained the skills their predecessors possessed, plus maybe a few incremental changes, and operations continued running smoothly.

As we move into 2020, we are approaching a shift in this legacy arrangement: a large segment of experienced, industrial talent is about to retire and the professionals coming in to replace them are completely different and often drawn to fields outside of the industrial world.

This article appears in our 2020 Digital Transformation Crystal Ball Report. Click the cover to get your copy.

Industrial companies need to capture the best talent across the globe and make this workforce transition seamless; success will hinge on their ability to leverage modern technology to solve for three key workforce challenges in 2020.

Closing the knowledge gap

One of the biggest threats of retiring industrial workers is the extensive amount of expertise they’re taking with them when they exit the workforce. The loss is more than just industry knowledge—in some cases it’s 30-35 years of experience gained at one industrial company…a significant amount of institutional knowledge.

Many industrial organizations might also rely on a single expert to deliver value to them for a key capability or across a span of global operations. It is unsettling to consider what will happen when heavily-relied upon experts decide to retire. How will organizations cope with losing individuals who are so pivotal to core operations and processes?

Fortunately, expert knowledge and experience can now be retained in modern software, and companies will look to find technologies that enable this in 2020. To be specific, advanced digital solutions capture expert capability and embed it within process and operating models. When organizations have new staff at the control panel in the future, these expertise-rich process models provide guidance and insight to lead them to better solutions. And this competence extends across industrial production, from operations to supply chain to R&D functions, using a broad range of digital solutions.

Driving better decisions

Modern technology will lead workers to better decision-making. For example, process-control models can give guidance to operators about best conditions for production. Prescriptive-maintenance solutions capture anomalies in asset or equipment behavior and enable workers to get ahead of equipment malfunctions, sometimes months in advance, to keep operations running smoothly. These ultimately make for a significantly less stressful work environment, providing continued peace of mind that everything is operating as it should.

Other examples are supply chain solutions that strengthen coordination between planning departments and manufacturing operations. These teams are mutually focused on meeting customer orders, but alignment can be difficult as they operate on different planning timescales and with varying scope from discrete assets to global regions. Enabling better collaboration by linking tools and communication leads to better decision-making and eases tension as they manage the inevitable disruptions created by volatile markets and varying demand.

Simulation technologies for operator training help get talent up to speed, quickly, and enable better decisions in the long-term. Training processes can be intense in the industrial world as there is often more risk for human error in either operation of machinery or management of complex, multi-step processes. Operator-training-simulation software enables less-experienced workers to learn in a simulated environment that throws real-world scenarios at them, without the real-world implications.

Meeting worker expectations

The replacements for retiring industrial workers will be younger, less experienced, not as apt to devote their entire working life to one organization and will have an entirely different set of expectations about the workplace.

It can be assumed that any new hires coming into the industrial ecosystem are all digital natives, and have an expectation that their place of work will be digitally-enabled. They also expect their work will be enhanced and made more efficient through digitalization, with comfortable user interfaces, user-friendly processes and granular data-visualizations that lead to more informed decision-making.

The expectations of the younger workforce will require organizations to rethink the way they are structured and find areas in which they can apply digital transformation to reshape the work their people do and how they do it. Without these efforts to modernize decades-old processes, industrial organizations will find themselves stretched for top talent in 2020 and beyond.