How the manufacturing and distribution workforce can meet Industry 4.0


There is no doubt that the digital revolution has been accelerated by the pandemic. Recovery has forced industries to re-configure supply chains to thrive through disruption. Manufacturers and distributors have also had to adapt to digital-first customer journeys, and all of this has had a significant effect on the requirements for workforce skills and capabilities.

According to the World Economic Forum the demand for technological skills (both coding and interacting with technology) is expected to rise by more than 50% in the next decade. Manufacturers and distributors are experiencing a fourth wave of technological advancement, with the rise of new digital technologies known as Industry 4.0 enabled by innovations like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. Industries are still trying to understand how Industry 4.0 will continue to play out. How are job roles evolving? What skills do they need to invest in to meet operational changes? The answers to these questions are critical as businesses seek to take full advantage of the opportunities that are arising from digital transformation.

Skills for the factory of the future

A common issue among manufacturers and distributors is that they embark on digital transformation without assessing their inhouse resources and fail to invest the appropriate time and money in employee training and upskilling opportunities. SYSPRO’s latest global research report ‘Realigning the links of the disconnected supply chain’ reveals only 38% of manufacturers and distributors have upskilled their staff to use new systems to improve business operations in the disruptions that have been faced. The study also shows that 61% of businesses had no intention of building long terms skills training programs to enable a digital workforce. Manufacturers and distributors are simply not engaging with the new workforce, yet the new workforce is digitally savvy and could assist the business to transform.

Closing the gap between employee 1.0 and Industry 4.0

The future of work will require two types of changes across the workforce: upskilling, in which staff gain new skills to help in their current roles, and reskilling, in which staff need the capabilities to take on different or entirely new roles. Organizations need to balance their investment in technology with the investment in digital skills. Conducting a skills gap analysis can help you identify the current skills possessed by your employees and the skills needed as you digitally transform. It’s interesting to also see that with digital’s rise in the workplace there is an increase for human-centric skills. Research shows that the top jobs for the next 10 years will rely heavily on human attributes like communication, creativity, flexibility, critical thinking, and innovation. So as manufacturers and distributors focus on education and training, these competencies should be considered alongside harder skills like fluency with data-driven tools for analytics and planning.

Empowering the future workforce

Digital skills education and life-long learning has become an HR priority, essential to hiring, developing, and retaining talent. If an organization has never used ERP software before and has been using manual systems, it’s important to upskill employees to use the new software otherwise this will be a waste of resources as it won’t be used effectively to achieve desired goals.

Another shift transforming industries is the rising dominance of millennials. This is the original digital-first generation which places it, and the Gen Z generation that’s close behind it in a unique position to provide practical leadership. Digitally savvy employees can be a cohort or digital ambassadors who work with current employees in the digital transformation.

Technology itself can also be used to assist employee 1.0 in Industry 4.0. Encourage the use of digital tools like low code to support innovation. Low code tools are software application design tools that can connect to your ERP to make it easy for employees to build, design and launch applications without the need for an in-house coding specialist. These tools can be used to improve operations across your business by transforming processes and improving efficiency.

Digital skills transformation 

Like any aspect of company culture, fostering a digital-savvy mindset will take time to accomplish. The first step is to get leadership and the C-suite to not only drive digital transformation but to ensure that the workforce is also digitally transforming in the same direction. Show employees the objectives of upskilling and involve them in that process. For example, map out processes and challenge employees themselves to identify where for example automation could replace spreadsheets. As with digital transformation, skills transformation can be achieved through breaking down the journey into manageable parts and making it all part of the company culture. This may take time for a sustained investment but with the right strategies and easing the transition to support your employees you can reap the rewards over the long-term.

Manufacturers and distributors need to realize for the industry to capitalize on digital transformation, a corresponding transformation within the workforce is required to ensure emerging skills are met. Preparing for the future of work should become an integral part of every organization’s digital strategy as technology alters the way the work is done.

Terence Moolman, Chief HR Officer, SYSPRO.

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