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September 17, 2019 Solving Industrial Workforce Challenges

Why technology advancements are key in retaining lost knowledge and attracting new talent.

industrial workforce skills

September 16, 2019

In a tight talent market, the struggle to fill positions creates challenges in nearly every industry. However, in the industrial world, there is a two-fold conflict at hand that makes talent an even more pressing issue.

The first issue is that experienced talent are now starting to retire in droves. The so-called Baby Boomer generation, who have been the backbone of the industrial world for decades, are leaving their companies and taking key skillsets with them. The type of worker coming in to replace them is very different from their predecessors. It used to be the case that people started working for industrial companies at the tender age of 18 and staying for up to 40 years. As those people retire, their replacements are younger, naturally less experienced, and they are job hoppers – a difficult reality for an industrial world where domain expertise and longevity is critical to success.

The second issue is attracting new talent to the industrial world. In manufacturing, it’s estimated that as many as 2.4 million jobs will go unfilled in the next decade. As mentioned, they have a different profile from the older, industrial workforce, but they also have a completely different set of job expectations. An additional challenge with recruiting young talent? Working in the industrial segment isn’t necessarily considered a “hot job” by today’s standards.

So how do you attract those people? How do you train them? How do you make sure the knowledge that’s about to retire isn’t lost? Technology is the key to addressing some of these pressing issues.

Retaining Lost Knowledge

Loss of expertise is a huge hurdle for the industrial world, and while incoming talent may be top-notch, their skillsets don’t match the skillsets of people who’ve dedicated decades of their lives to working within a specific industry and often the same company, who know all the innerworkings of that company.

Luckily, advancements in technology can save some of that lost expertise. Modern digital tools are now available that embed knowledge in process models so that deep capabilities and knowledge of retired experts can be retained, all in the software. While companies won’t necessarily have experts with decades of knowledge at the control panel anymore, modern process models that retain that expertise can guide remaining workers and lead them to better solutions and decision-making. In effect, the model becomes part of the workforce because of the expertise it holds and experience it represents, that it can share with workers.

This is a particularly important tech advancement as it applies to companies and organizations that operate on a global level. For example, there exist a number of experts, near retiring age, who own one, core responsibility across multiple geographic locations and factories within a company. This “go-to” person exercises a unique skillset for an entire organization. When that person retires, the company will undoubtedly be on the hunt for someone with that same niche skillset to replace this person.

But what if they can’t find someone who is the right fit? Here is where the value of digital transformation lies. Technology essentially helps organizations avoid this situation by replicating that knowledge and distributing it to multiple site locations across the globe. The reliance on a single expert to carry the day disappears in the presence of modern technology capabilities.

Meeting Millennial Expectations

The new, fresh talent that comes into an organization today is not the same fresh talent from a decade or two ago. This group, made up mostly of Millennials and, now, Gen Z, are digital natives and have a completely different set of expectations in the workplace. They have grown up in an on-demand world with immediate access to digital tools and expect the digital world to translate to their jobs, down to their daily responsibilities in those jobs.

When entering the workforce, this group of talent expects elements like user interfaces will be comfortable, familiar, and that digital will always integrate with the work that they are expected to do. This reality changes how organizations need to operate and how they share information with their employee base. How should organizations use this knowledge to revamp control rooms, to onboard new talent, to train new talent?

The first step starts with building a business case for the value of a digital tool. Sure, there are challenges that face every industrial organization with tech implementation, but once fully integrated into operations, new digital tools dramatically increase efficiency and workflow processes, enhancing operators’ work and increasing their level of insight.

One of the best digital tools to invest in for the industrial workforce is in operator training software as it gets operators up to speed on how to do their roles using newer technologies, as well as basic on-the-job training. The beauty of this new breed of technology is that it also can simulate plant environments for workers to give them practice in different “real-world” scenarios, without operational repercussions if they make a mistake. It adds a true modern edge to training and makes these industrial roles more attractive to the younger workforce by eradicating some of the pain points in industrial work.

Overall, technology is the best solution to maintaining a solid workforce and retaining lost expertise in the industrial world. It absolutely comes with hurdles, like implementation, but has the power to completely transform an organization, changing its direction and, ultimately, its chance at survival in the future.

Paige Marie Morse is the Industry Marketing Director for Chemicals at Aspen Technology, enabling digital transformation progress at chemical companies worldwide. She has significant experience with leading operating companies, including Shell, Dow, Sunoco, and Clariant, in R&D, marketing, commercial and strategy roles. Dr. Morse has a BA in chemistry from Kenyon College and a PhD in chemistry from the University of Illinois.

Aspen Technology


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