Based on my personal experience of spending more than a decade in the skill training sector, I have noticed that the preference of the younger workforce in India to opt for service sector jobs was always much higher than anything to do with manufacturing. As someone once described manufacturing as the 3Ds – Dark, Dirty and Dangerous, the service sectors of IT/ITeS, retail, telecom and others were always preferred, as they were perceived to be attractive, safe, innovative and even ‘cool’.
Then, how do we attract the Gen Z (common term referred to those who were born between 1995 and 2015) to the world of manufacturing? A recent survey in 2019, conducted in the US, surprisingly suggests that the Gen Z has a positive view towards manufacturing as a career. At the same time, the manufacturing industry needs to try to attract quality talent and it will need to focus on the following six areas so that the manufacturing industry can attract young workforce representing the Gen Z.
Improving the ‘experience’
The traditional manufacturing industry is based on manuals, paperwork (the famous Kanban cards), other physical methods to disseminate knowledge and skills. Time is ripe to ensure that digitalisation of best practices will enable faster adoption of changes in knowledge and the progressive use of technology as an enabler will hasten the workforce to be more proficient in relevant skills. Digital tools and techniques are surely an important ingredient for attracting more from a generation that is digital native.
Connected worker technologies can transform team collaboration in industrial environments. By giving employees the ability to instant message, video conference or send multimedia assets to managers and team members, the overall work experience for a Gen Z employee and operational efficiency in general, can be vastly improved.
Quicken the ‘time to competency’
The current practice and process for onboarding a fresh employee takes a significant amount of time to onboard the person and achieve the desired proficiency level in two to three years. However, by that time, the employee gets ‘bored’ and wants to find another ‘new’ job. This works to be a highly cost-inefficient method of human resource management at the organisation and leads to huge dissatisfaction on either side.
Many new employees have little or no prior experience in the industry, let alone the specific equipment or processes in use. Aside from job guidance, connected worker technology can also help managers coach talent. Work execution data can provide new insights into employee work performance, identifying areas of success and improvement.
Enhance ‘safety’ perception
The assembly line speeds in mass production plants can range from tens to hundreds of units per minute, so workers have little room for ‘learning on the fly’, in turn making safety the primary concern. Technology accounts for that by literally guiding employees, step-by-step and with mandatory evidence to take precautionary actions and avoid hazards. The digital procedures can be set-up where workers must validate that they are wearing the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) before they can access the work order.
The use of technology to improve safety standards in manufacturing without sacrificing productivity, quality and cost is important to attract young talent for this industry.
Shifting of ‘shifts’: Attracting ‘gig workers’
The Gen Z values flexibility and this figure is high on the list of expectations from the job. This flexibility is severely dented in a manufacturing environment, where the first constraint is that one must be part of the shift. Dynamic scheduling software allows organisations to schedule the skilled worker to work in different companies and different jobs and get compensated for the work done. The model of gig working is here to stay and manufacturing organisations need to bring it into their fold, deploying robots and human workforce interchangeably. There may be other significant ways of allowing employees to do multiple roles in an organisation to allow for variation and flexibility in the work allocation.
Gig workers have a clear understanding of the work-life balance that they want, and they put as much emphasis on the life side of the equation as they do on the work side. In the gig economy, manufacturers should focus on the worker’s skill set and the ability to mesh with a team, human or machine, rather than the amount of time they stay with the company.
Putting ‘diversity’ on priority
In one global survey, Gen Z respondents were more likely to stay with organisations they perceived to have a diverse and inclusive workforce. Diversity of educational background was the top priority, followed by age, ethnicity and gender.
With this background, one needs to remember that a high penchant for standardisation in education and gender has been the hallmark of the manufacturing industry. There are next to little or no women in the manufacturing workforce. Organisations that meaningfully prioritise the gender pay gap and ensure all employees have an equal path to promotion can expect to have more success at harnessing and retaining Gen Z talent as they enter the workforce.
'Sustainability’ is preferred
According to a survey, about 70% of millennials said a company’s sustainability record would impact their decision to work for a company. Many youngsters want to work for an organisation with a mission and purpose they believe in, and they are more likely to prefer working at a company that is transparent about its ecological impact.
The production efficiencies, enabled through technology and its ability to document gains made or waste averted, will be key to that transparency, as well as a reason for them to stay loyal to a company and a motivating factor for the Gen Z employees to join the organisation. As the manufacturing industry, especially in the automotive, gets disrupted by technology improvements, there are key imperatives for skills training ecosystem to prepare workforce for the future.
Develop the capacity of trainers to drive innovation and change
One of the perceived bottlenecks in effecting change in organisations relates to the lack of change in leaders and a lack of capacity to develop a vision and implement change. Any action to address changes external to training ecosystem can be realised by vocational skills trainers who are equipped with the knowledge and skills to understand the issues from the global and regional perspectives and formulate strategies from within the existing systems and local skills ecosystem. Vocational skills trainers need to be equipped with the tools to understand the scope of the problems and develop institutional strategies to be able to create timely responses.
Generate and share knowledge, bridging experiences through networking
Important to bridging experiences is establishing a dialogue and an understanding of other contexts and local ecosystem responses. The lessons learned from the successes and failures of others can play an important role in bridging the knowledge gap and evolving innovation in vocational skills training ecosystem.
Vocational skills training institutions in the network must be supported to break down the barriers and increase synergy and collaboration. A seamless collaborative platform, with the local relevant industry and a permeable structure of cross-movement between trainees of the institution and trainers from industry, will enhance the effectiveness of the collaboration. The best experiences and practices in skills development across sectors and institutions need to be disseminated effectively to encourage peer learning.
Finally, as we stand amid the crisis caused by the pandemic, we have this unique opportunity to strengthen manufacturing excellence by attracting the top quartile of the talent to innovate, collaborate and sustain manufacturing practices.