With talent and technology as top investment priorities for 2022, it makes sense that UK manufacturers would use both to improve employee experiences. Paul Haimes, European Vice President EMEAI Solutions Consulting at PTC, provides insights into how digital tools can improve employee experiences and help manufacturers attract new talent.
This year, talent and technology are the top investment priorities for UK manufacturers, according to the recently published Create UK/PwC Executive Survey 2022†
Respondents view access to a limited pool of domestic labor and skills as a major risk to their business. As a result, two-thirds plan to upskill or retrain existing staff, while nearly half plan to invest in apprenticeships. And when it comes to digital technologies, including automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and additive manufacturing, 45% have concrete plans to spend money this year.
This is important, because technology increasingly determines the perception of work by employees. After all, technology tools indicate how many employees are connecting, communicating and collaborating — especially those who work remotely or follow a hybrid work schedule, splitting their time between home and a corporate office.
But it is essential that manufacturing companies do not neglect the workers who work on the factory floor. If a product has to be made with machines located in a particular facility, skilled employees still need to be physically present to perform essential tasks, perform controls and ensure that processes run smoothly.
These factory floor workers have already seen massive changes in the tools they are given to do their jobs in recent years. They can expect much more in 2022 and beyond. Importantly, digital tools not only make workloads cleaner and more secure, but also more data-driven, giving employees information that, combined with their expertise and experience, helps them make faster, more accurate decisions.
Factory floors have been going paperless for years. Employees are now much more likely to consult a screen — be it a laptop, tablet, mobile or portable devices — all of which are more interactive and less cumbersome than a clipboard or a dusty manual.
And in these digitized environments, where the delivery of data is supported by Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, product lifecycle management (PLM) systems and augmented reality (AR) technologies, the flow of information is much more likely to be relevant to the specific task or challenge an employee is facing. This increases their productivity and job satisfaction and has the potential to increase safety and reduce the scrap and rework that results when human error creeps in.
AR and training
With technology and talent in the spotlight, it makes more sense to use the former to drive the latter.
Indeed, in the face of skills shortages and fierce competition for talent, manufacturing companies are under pressure to provide better and more fulfilling jobs and equip workers with the skills and training they need to perform them.
Augmented reality (AR) technology could be an important part of that picture. AR, which overlays digital information about physical objects and environments in the workplace and supports remote collaboration, has grown significantly in recent years as it has been valuable during the pandemic in helping companies overcome the challenges of remote working and social distancing in industrial environments. . Today, employers should see AR as a way to attract new employees to their organization and to retrain and upskill existing employees.
For example, workers may have difficulty setting up or operating a particular piece of equipment on the factory floor. Work instructions, delivered by AR, can guide them step-by-step through the best approach when they need it. When building products, they can use AR to refer back to the original CAD files to understand which components and parts to use and how they fit together. Likewise, service technicians working in the field can use AR to work with colleagues at headquarters to find the best way to fix a previously unseen error with a customer product.
What is clear is that in the Industry 4.0 era, it makes no sense that the workforce in the workplace is less equipped than their colleagues in the office when it comes to technology tools. Gone are the days of greasy rags and dingy clipboards; data is what increases productivity, efficiency, accuracy and competitiveness in today’s modern manufacturing environment.
It’s also what dynamically attracts new talent to a company, from a generation defined by the use and comfort of technology. And with that in mind, no UK manufacturer can afford to skimp on the technology on the factory floor.