With talent and technology the top investment priorities for 2022, it makes sense for UK manufacturers to use both to boost employee experiences. Paul Haimes, European vice president EMEAI Solutions Consulting at PTC, provides some insights into how digital tools can boost employees' 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 Make UK/PwC Executive Survey 2022.
Respondents view access to a limited pool of domestic labour and skills as a big risk to their businesses. As a result, two-thirds plan to upskill or retrain existing staff, while almost 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 defines the employee experience of work. Technology tools, after all, are how many employees connect, communicate and collaborate – especially those who work remotely or follow a hybrid working schedule, where they split their time between home and a company office.
But it’s essential that manufacturing companies don’t neglect those employees who work on the factory floor. When there’s a product to be made using machinery located in a particular facility, it’s still the case that skilled employees must be physically present, too, to perform essential tasks, to conduct checks and to ensure processes run smoothly.
These factory-floor employees have already seen huge changes in recent years, in terms of the tools they’re given to do their jobs. They can expect many more in 2022 and beyond. What’s important is that digital tools are not only making manufacturing jobs cleaner and safer, but also more data-driven, with employees provided with information that, combined with their expertise and experience, helps them to make faster, more accurate decisions.
For many years factory floors have become increasingly paperless. Workers are far more likely now to consult a screen – whether that’s a laptop, tablet, mobile or wearable devices – each being more interactive and less cumbersome than a clipboard or dusty manual.
And, in these digitised environments, where the delivery of data is underpinned by Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, product lifecycle management (PLM) systems and augmented reality (AR) technologies, the flow of information is far more likely to be up to date and relevant to the specific task or challenge an employee faces. This increases their productivity and job satisfaction and has the potential to boost safety and reduce the scrap and rework that results when human error creeps in.
AR and training
Increasingly, with technology and talent in the spotlight, it makes sense to use the former to boost the latter.
After all, in the face of skills shortages and intense competition for talent, the pressure is on for manufacturing companies to offer better and more satisfying jobs and to 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 onto physical objects and environments in the workplace and supports remote collaboration, has seen a sharp increase in recent years, because during the pandemic, it was valuable in helping companies get around the challenges of remote working and social distancing in industrial environments. Today, employers should be looking at AR as a way to attract new employees to their organisations and to reskill and upskill existing workers.
For example, employees may struggle to set up or operate a particular piece of machinery on the factory floor. Work instructions, delivered by AR, could guide them through the best approach, step by step at the point in time they need it. When building products, they might use AR to refer back to the original CAD files to understand what components and parts they need to use and the way these fit together. Similarly, service engineers working out in the field could use AR to collaborate with colleagues back at headquarters on the best way to fix a previously unseen fault with a customer product.
What’s clear is that in the Industry 4.0 era, it makes no sense for factory floor staff to be less well-equipped than their office-based colleagues when it comes to technology tools. The days of oily rags and grubby clipboards are over; data is what boosts productivity, efficiency, accuracy, competitiveness in today’s modern manufacturing environment.
It’s also what attracts dynamic new talent to a company, drawn from a generation defined by its use of and comfort with technology. And with that in mind, no UK manufacturer can afford to skimp on factory floor tech.