Is digital transformation really the key to solving the talent shortage in manufacturing?

Sept. 14, 2021

Offering digital tools will attract up-and-coming quality professionals, not to mention make training a breeze once they are brought on board.

As the manufacturing world rebounds from the chaos caused by COVID-19, manufacturers are increasingly focused on digital transformation. Many are exploring or adopting digital technologies such as advanced analytics, AI, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and cloud computing to become more agile, competitive, and resilient for the future (which you can read more about in my last blog for the Smart Industry Forum).

We all know this. 

But consider this: digital transformation may also be the key to solving another long-standing industry problem—attracting and retaining talent.

We’ve seen the labor gap growing as Baby Boomers retire from the workforce in droves, taking with them years of honed skills and expertise. It has been predicted that in the United States alone, manufacturers will be facing a staggering 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030. And they are already feeling the strain. Consider the results of a 2021 survey of both US manufacturers and multinational manufacturers with a US presence conducted by the Workforce Institute at UKG: nearly 63% reported difficulties in filling critical labor gaps, with another 23% emphasizing serious struggles.

So, to keep operations running effectively and thriving in a highly competitive marketplace, manufacturers need to attract a new wave of workers. It’s here that investments in digital technology will be key.

Tackling manufacturing misconceptions

When it comes to recruiting the best and brightest, manufacturers are often hindered by preconceived notions about the industry. Many still perceive manufacturing careers to be physically demanding, dirty or even dangerous. Millennials looking for professional advancement and Gen-Zers entering the workforce show declining interest in what they perceive as a “blue collar” path.

These generations have grown up with technology as an integral part of their everyday lives. They easily adapt to new tech advancements and are accustomed to the convenience of the digital era. With just a click of a mouse or a tap of a screen, they can instantly access any information they need or connect with anyone from anywhere in the world. This extends to the workplace, where they expect the very same digitally enabled experience. 

Providing cutting-edge technology

Fortunately, significant strides are being made toward building the smart factory of the future—one that’s powered by advanced technologies and data-driven intelligence, rather than merely sweat and labor. Organizations that lead the way in digital transformation will be poised to position themselves as high-tech organizations filled with enticing career opportunities.

A great example to illustrate my point comes from the realm of quality management—one of the most critical roles to fill in a manufacturing organization. Manufacturers have traditionally collected data manually and used paper for record-keeping and analysis. But talented young jobseekers are simply not going to be attracted to a position where they’d spend their workday deciphering data hastily scrawled on a paper checklist or combing through thousands of spreadsheets.

Instead, forward-thinking manufacturers are offering mobile, digital tools that empower quality teams to work efficiently and generate real business value. Cloud-based quality-management software, for instance, is a user-friendly, engaging tool for quality professionals. Data can be automatically collected, aggregated and then sliced and diced with an array of advanced, intuitive analysis tools. Quality teams can thereby gain instant insights into process performance and uncover improvement opportunities that drive tangible business results. Offering digital tools will attract up-and-coming quality professionals, not to mention make training a breeze once they are brought on board.

Investing for the future

Building the next generation of the workforce will come down to forging the connection between digital technologies and the manufacturing plant floor. New tech-savvy talent will be needed to not only carry on the legacy of previous generations, but also power the industry forward with their own fresh perspectives. Manufacturers that embrace digital transformation now will be those that drive even greater innovation in the years to come.


Jason Chester is director of global channel programs for InfinityQS International Inc.