As the world prepares for life after uncertain business times, industrial companies are mobilizing to leverage digitization and powerful technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and automation. They’re also mindful that Industry 5.0 is the horizon — an era in which personalization, customization and the human touch will be key to commercial success.
To thrive, companies won’t just need to deliver products and services in a faster, more efficient and streamlined manner. They’ll also have to do so in a way that is tailored to their customers — which means they need workers who are competent, agile and adaptable to change.
Indeed, McKinsey recently reported that companies around the world are beginning to reenergize their workforce as a first step in preparing for the post-pandemic future. Gartner’s 2020 survey of chief executive officers identified hiring and people development as top priorities for today’s CEOs. Similarly, a new Fortune/Deloitte survey has placed people at the heart of economic revitalization.
Competing in the Industrial Sector
Workforce excellence and resilience are concepts that organizations have traditionally applied to desk-bound employees rather than industrial field workers. Over the decades, office staff have benefitted from a continuous investment in efficiency and collaboration tools that have driven workplace productivity exponentially.
In contrast, the life of industrial workers has changed little over the years. Sector-specific training or development tools have tended to focus on upskilling rather than holistic education that puts workers in the driving seat of change.
Then there are the expectations of next-generation industrial workers. Educated, ambitious, mobile and technologically-savvy since childhood, these younger workers have a vastly different mindset than their predecessors. They require not just a different onboarding and training approach but a new modus operandi.
There are distinct geographic challenges to contend with, too. McKinsey reports that while automation may reduce the average worker’s annual schedule in China by 87 days by 2030, in Japan, low birth rates are creating a talent gap that employers are desperate to fill. There are also a growing number of nationalization initiatives reducing opportunities for expatriate workers in many industrialized countries.
Industrial organizations will have to adjust to these complexities and challenges while taking steps to help workers accomplish more with technology. So, where should industrial organizations start in terms of implementing a workforce resilience development strategy? Here are six key considerations:
1. Identify Needs and Gaps
It’s important to assess the gap between the actual state of an individual’s capabilities and the capabilities required for success. Based on that assessment, the organization can create a competency development plan that is tailored to the individual and his or her role.
2. Train and Practice
Ideally, organizations should deliver training should through virtual reality (VR) and simulation applications that replicate real assets and operational environments. Using a headset device or in 2D on their laptops, for example, maintenance technicians and engineers can practice tasks and procedures safely in a virtual environment. Similarly, solutions that replicate physical plants or control systems can enable field and plant operators to train together on different aspects of operations and safety.
Learning and development don’t stop once someone completes training. Workers can enlist the support of mobility tools wherever they are in the field to provide them with guidance in the form of data, document and workflow visualization. Such tools can help them preempt potential failures.
4. Test and Qualify
To retain information and master skills, workers should obtain certifications or qualifications based on the successful completion of written exams, 3D simulation tests or on-the-job assessments. Each assessment should involve expert evaluation against objective and defined role-based competency criteria, with certifications or qualifications valid for three years to help ensure that workers regularly refresh their skills.
Organizations should monitor the long-term performance of workers through data-driven surveillance that identifies key improvements as well as development areas that training can address.
6. Monitor and Enhance
Organizations should embrace perpetual, iterative and self-reinforcing training and support programs for continual enhancement.
In the closed loop process defined by these six steps, the learning never stops. It’s a continuous circle that fosters skills progression; professional development; and ever-higher levels of productivity, compliance and safety.
As industrial organizations look toward the future, they have a rare opportunity to reimagine how they operate and use their most valuable assets: their people. Industrial facilities are unique and complex environments, and while most plants today are highly automated, the importance of some tasks during repairs and upsets still requires a high level of skill to complete safely and without risking unplanned downtime. The bottom line is that plants have always and will always require competent employees who can do the job correctly, safely and quickly — every time.
To succeed, industrial organizations must keep pace with demographic, geographic and socioeconomic changes that are rapidly altering the appearance, culture and working rhythm of their workplace. Next-generation workforce resilience and excellence solutions are connecting skills directly to intelligent operations for the first time, enabling the industrial organizations that embrace them to realize their full potential.