How is technology creating the workplace of the future?

The businesses who will succeed in recruiting and retaining young talent to replace the ageing workforce are those who are most prepared to adapt to the needs of a ‘digital native’ generation.

Workplace of the Future Millennials Young People - Stock Image
Most manufacturing employers seem aware that their human capital is precisely that – a valuable resource within the business, and one to be developed and nurtured.

Millennials or Generation Y – i.e. those born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s – are the first generation to have grown up online, using and embracing technology at far higher rates than any previous generation.

Manufacturers tend to frame the debate about the impact of the digitalisation of manufacturing – often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – around issues such as product design, assembly lines and supply chains.

At The Manufacturer, we believe it is vital also to consider the impact of 4IR on the workforce, both in terms of how the allocation of labour will change and in terms of how flexible our national skills base is going to be in responding to the challenge.

We carried out a survey of UK companies, in partnership with the human capital management and workforce management company Kronos, to analyse these issues, and over the coming weeks we will be offering extracts from the report, together with the opportunity to download it in its entirety.

In recent weeks, we have explored how manufacturers are sourcing the skills they need, as well as how 4IR technologies will impact your workforce.

This week, we highlight how technology is creating the workplace of the future.

The manufacturing workplace

Much of the resistance in society to manufacturing is a complete misunderstanding of how it has changed in recent decades. So, what is it really like to work in manufacturing in 2017?

If the oppressive and grimy industrial factories of yesteryear are no more, as we so often claim, then how does the modern manufacturing workplace stack up against the modern image the sector is trying to project? Do companies offer employees, particularly young ones, the kind of working environment that will make manufacturing the go-to career of the future?

Click here to download the full report.

The answers from our survey, it must be said, are mixed. On the plus side, most respondents (84%) disagreed with the statement that ‘our leadership is focused on finances, rather than employees’.

Similarly, almost two-thirds (61%) disagreed with the statement that, in their organisations, ‘the human resources role was more about managing risk, and meeting regulations, than people management’.

Employee Engagement Innovation Collaboration Workforce Meeting - Stock Image
Just 52% of respondents felt that their organisation is able to meet individual needs in terms of work-life balance – meaning that almost half of respondents were not able to identify with this sentiment.

So far, so good. But on the other hand, more than half (58%) agreed that ‘employees need more control over their working lives’. Moreover, just 45% of respondents felt that their organisation could ‘engage with employees on a personal level, and accommodate their preferred way of working’.

Even more disturbingly, just 52% of respondents felt that their organisation is able to meet individual needs in terms of work-life balance – meaning that almost half of respondents (48%) were not able to identify with this sentiment.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, workforce engagement transpired to be something of an issue. An overwhelming majority of respondents (94%) felt that ‘employees needed to feel more engaged with the business’, which is somewhat disturbing, given manufacturers’ urgent focus on recruitment and retention, and the efforts and investment that they were making in these areas.

To their credit, a large number are now taking steps to resolve this, with a variety of workplace actions and programmes designed to encourage and foster employee engagement.

Almost three quarters of respondents (71%) aimed to provide good career development and prospects, for example. Just over half of respondents encouraged employees’ direct managers to invest in those employees’ performance and growth.

Almost as many (48%) had adopted a more people-focused approach in the workplace, designed to empower employees. And just over a quarter (26%) had put in place programmes of staff incentives and rewards.

These are hardly the actions of disinterested and distant employers. Nor, in their broader context, are they signs of a constraining or oppressive workplace.

While ‘paternalistic’ may not be exactly the first word that comes to mind when summarising the 2017 manufacturing workplace, most manufacturing employers seem aware that their human capital is precisely that – a valuable resource within the business, and one to be developed, nurtured, and conserved.

Next week: making digital technology work for a happier workforce.