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Building an Automation-Ready Workforce

Tony Del Preto
Mar 29, 2021 12:16:04 PM

The pandemic has accelerated the drive to digitization in manufacturing, with many organizations integrating AI, machine learning, and advanced robotics into their operations at a rapid pace.

To capitalize on the transformative power of automation technology, organizations must display readiness in these key areas.

People

Though many questions remain about automation, a clear fact has emerged in recent years: automation will replace tasks, not jobs. Human workers will always be necessary to design, operate, and improve intelligent systems. Further, many job-related activities will continue to require uniquely human skills (otherwise known as soft skills), such as critical thinking, empathic decision-making, troubleshooting, analysis, collaboration, and teamwork.

Human skills are a critical component of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The IIoT refers to a network of intelligent devices that can monitor, collect, exchange, analyze and deliver information to the organization.

Coupled with big data analytics, machine-to-machine communication delivers powerful insights to human workers that can help drive efficiency, productivity, and performance in the workplace. For example, the IIoT can act as an early warning system, detecting corrosion in a pipe, giving workers the chance to replace it and avoid unscheduled downtime. The IIoT can also feed real-time production data to plant managers to help them identify slowdowns and increase efficiency.

IIoT can also help organizations make further strides toward a Green Economy – one that simultaneously promotes sustainability, economic growth, and social well-being. The insights gleaned by intelligent machines can help organizations minimize their environmental impact by becoming more resource efficient.

Whatever the role of IIoT in your organization, meaningful business outcomes cannot be achieved by machines alone. Rather, success depends on a workforce that can apply the learnings delivered by intelligent machines and make the best use of them.

It’s clear that, as technologies evolve, so will the roles of humans that work with them. Individuals will need to continue learning throughout their working lives. As such, organizations must make education and development a priority.

While general skills are important, workers are most primed to succeed when they learn how to apply precise technologies to specific business processes. Thus, hands-on training, mentorship, and apprentice programs are crucial.

As my colleague, Nimo Shah, shared in her recent blog on upskilling, to close skills gaps and develop future-ready workforces, employers should identify workers’ aptitude for the new roles and tasks and deliver personalized, curated training content that demonstrates the practical applications of what they are learning.

Also, to keep pace with the accelerated rate of change in the workplace, training should be delivered in short, easily accessible bursts of learning that are highly relevant to the task at hand.

Leadership

In addition to encouraging the development of new skills among their employees, leadership must help the organization understand how automation strategy aligns with corporate strategy and how everyone will benefit.

Leaders must also:
      • Define their delivery model, operating model, investment case, and roadmap to deliver scalable robotics and AI across the organization;
      • Understand the implications of automation on existing business policies, processes, and procedures
      • Create and implement business continuity plans help the organization respond swiftly to unforeseen issues with machines or processes
      • Understand future state human machine interactions and the impact on organizational design, roles and responsibilities, and employee engagement
      • Help increase trust in technology across the organization and support  the shift to new working environments
      • Drive a spirit of innovation with an emphasis on analytics

Talent Strategy

As skills requirements for tasks and roles swiftly evolve and organizations need to drive time-sensitive automation projects to completion, it becomes necessary for organizations to build a flexible talent strategy.

Organizations should always be focused on upskilling and developing their workforce. However, talent strategies also need to be flexible and capitalize on opportunities to augment the skills and capabilities of their workforce – to not only fill skills gaps, but to help drive time-sensitive projects to completion.

This is why it’s crucial to have access to communities of skilled talent from which you can buy and borrow. We see this as the best way to manage the total cost of your workforce while achieving automation milestones.

New generations of workers are increasingly comfortable clocking in part-time, working on a contract or project basis, and pursuing other forms of alternative labor. The pandemic has only increased the number of workers available for non-permanent, non-full-time work. Widespread labor disruptions have displaced scores of workers who were either laid off or had their hours significantly reduced and are looking for a new role or supplemental income. Many others are seeking flexible work arrangements to balance home-schooling and other family obligations.

Another effective way to leverage talent communities outside your existing workforce is to go to market. Buying talent allows you to closely match project requirements with skilled workers who can get the job done.

Whatever your talent strategy, helping people pre-skill, upskill and reskill for in-demand roles is crucial to harnessing the transformative power of sweeping technology breakthroughs.

Manpower can help you accelerate through our project-based services, while managing your total cost of workforce. Talk to one of our experts today about your manufacturing workforce needs.

¹Skills Revolution Reboot: The 3rs - Renew, Reskill, Redeploy. ManpowerGroup, 2021.

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