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Manufacturers Need an Employee Strategy for the Smart Workplace

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Manufacturers find themselves pushing through a “difficult phase” in their journey to achieve so-called “smart manufacturing.”

The difficulty does not appear to be linked to new hardware or software additions to the manufacturing floor. Rather, according to the results of a survey from Gartner, the stumbling block appears to be flesh-and-blood in nature, with 57% of manufacturing leaders reporting that their organizations lack skilled workers to support the businesses’ digitization plans, and this is complicating the workplace transition from Baby Boomer workers to younger Millennials.

“Manufacturers are currently going through a difficult phase in their digitization journey toward smart manufacturing,” said Simon Jacobson, vice president/analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice. “They accept that changing from a break-fix mentality and culture to a data-driven workforce is a must. However, intuition, efficiency and engagement cannot be sacrificed. New workers might be tech-savvy but lack access to best practices and know-how — and tenured workers might have the knowledge, but not the digital skills.  A truly connected factory worker in a smart manufacturing environment needs both.”

Jacobson notes an embrace of technology is not enough to make an operation truly “smart.” The National Institute of Standards and Technology has defined “smart manufacturing” as “fully-integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in real-time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network and in customer needs.” 

More than 80% of those surveyed by Gartner said their companies are committed to the concept and willing to invest to support it. However, the ability to change on a dime in response to the needs of customers or the supply chain requires the workforce to undergo a sort of evolution of its own, one that is both understood and supported by manufacturing leaders.

“The most immediate action is for organizations to realize that this is more than digitization,” Jacobson said. “It requires synchronizing activities for capability building, capability enablement and empowering people. Taking a ‘how to improve a day in the life’ approach will increase engagement, continuous learning and ultimately foster a pull-based approach that will attract tenured workers. They are the best points of contact to identify the best starting points for automation and the required data and digital tools for better decision-making.”

More information from Gartner about smart manufacturing can be accessed through this page.

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