1660317261319 Rachelconradrockwellarticle

3 steps toward a more agile, flexible workforce

Nov. 11, 2021

Recruiting, managing and retaining skilled workers have remained critical priorities for manufacturing organizations. The challenges created by the COVID-19 global pandemic not only highlighted those necessities, they expanded them.

As baby boomers continue to leave the workforce and take their experience and knowledge with them, the significance of growing a strong workforce to replace them becomes even more crucial. Jobs and skill sets have changed dramatically over the past three years, as technology and automation continue to play a more important role in manufacturing.

And those changing jobs and skills require a workforce that is not only agile, but flexible. At Automation Fair 2021, Rachael Conrad, vice president and general manager, customer support and maintenance, Rockwell Automation, identified three strategies the company is using to build, manage and retain that workforce.

By attracting, augmenting and training employees, Conrad hopes to keep her group of about 3,000 engineers, who are situated remotely around the globe, content and engaged.

“We have 15 remote support centers around the world,” said Conrad. “We couldn’t send someone into a plant during the pandemic. We use PTC’s Vuforia Chalk, and we also created digital assist libraries for things people do repetitively.”

Attracting talent to manufacturing and to your company is the first of three interlocking strategies to build the workforce for the future. Giving that workforce flexibility by offering support and augmentation is the second step. Finally, those employees need to be trained and retrained to stay relevant and advance their capabilities.

“We need to change the brand image of manufacturing; it’s not dark and dirty,” said Conrad. “More companies need to think about what manufacturing looks like. Millennials are used to walking around with their phones. Your company image is really important. You have to get people to come and then to want to stay.”

That image of manufacturing starts in the schools, said Sherman Joshua, director, workforce and competency, lifecycle services, at Rockwell Automation. “What do we teach about industrial manufacturing?” he asked, referring to textbook depictions of production plants that are decades old. “The pictures of manufacturing in books are in black and white. Are you bringing students into your facility on tours to show them what manufacturing looks like today? Show them what lifestyle they can have. Take them around the parking lot to see the fast cars and nice trucks that employees drive. And talk about the software skills they need.”

Building a robust workforce starts with a plan, emphasized Joshua. “It starts with your business strategy. Ask some questions. What do your customers need? What can we bring to the market? What are the skills and competencies needed?”

And be sure you understand your demographics. “Who’s retiring? What skills do they have? Leverage tools. There are new areas for collaboration. People are using similar tools across other silos within the company,” said Joshua.

Once you have the alignment with the strategy and identify the gap, how do you fill it? “Look at things like remote access and as-a-service models,” suggested Joshua. “Technology is another key area. Give workers faster access to knowledge and skills and analytics. Augmented reality is a technology that’s an investment in people. As we look at the people investment, how do we train and retain? What is our engagement level?”

An active plan is necessary to drive engagement. “Investing in your people drives them,” Joshua said. “Make time for training.”

Conrad’s group accelerated a lot of e-learning during the pandemic. “Our growth in e-learning was 400% last year, largely because of the pandemic,” she explained. “We’re competing with everybody for talent, not just other automation companies. Part of your success is the culture you’re creating and the environment.”

Get the best of Automation Fair 2021

The editors of Control, Control Design and Smart Industry are reporting live from Automation Fair. When the event comes to a close, the editors will compile a report of the best, most important coverage from the event. Register now to pre-order the report and be among the first to receive it in your inbox. Pre-order your copy now.

Sponsored Recommendations

Measurement instrumentation for improving hydrogen storage and transport

Hydrogen provides a decarbonization opportunity. Learn more about maximizing the potential of hydrogen.

Get Hands-On Training in Emerson's Interactive Plant Environment

Enhance the training experience and increase retention by training hands-on in Emerson's Interactive Plant Environment. Build skills here so you have them where and when it matters...

Learn About: Micro Motion™ 4700 Config I/O Coriolis Transmitter

An Advanced Transmitter that Expands Connectivity

Learn about: Micro Motion G-Series Coriolis Flow and Density Meters

The Micro Motion G-Series is designed to help you access the benefits of Coriolis technology even when available space is limited.