Manufacturing workers are retiring in droves, with an estimated 2.7 million jobs being vacated by 2025. At the same time, the growth and advancement of the industry is expected to create an additional 700,000 jobs for skilled manufacturing employees over the next decade. As a result, manufacturers are scrambling to fill this knowledge and skills deficit with the next generation of workers — millennials.
Manufacturers are not naïve to the process of hiring a new generation to fill roles left by an aging workforce. The millennial generation, however, poses new challenges that manufacturers have never faced before. As digital natives, they are the first generation that has grown up with personal computing devices and the internet and, as a result, they have always been connected to information from anywhere — even while on the job. Unfortunately, manufacturers have not kept up with the pace of personal technology advancements, and now many are rushing to upgrade their current paper-based processes and stationary computer monitors.
By introducing mobile technology that can streamline work processes, manufacturers can begin to leverage this technology to attract and retain the next generation of information workers, who will then in turn drive the future of the organization.
Streamlining Current Manufacturing Processes with Mobility
Opportunities to incorporate mobile technology throughout the manufacturing floor are plentiful, and since 77% of millennials wish to have greater mobile connectivity in the workplace, now is the perfect time to add mobile tech to streamline processes. Since only 44% of manufacturers support shop floor control via mobile devices, most manufacturing facilities require the use of paper logs or stationary computers to manage everyday processes such as scheduling, machine usage, payroll and quality control management.
Each of these methods leads to inefficiencies, as standard computers usually are in a separate office area away from the manufacturing floor and paper logs can often lead to human error and redundancies. By using more rugged mobile solutions instead of these antiquated processes, workers and supervisors are able to quickly input data while on the floor, access production capacity information, monitor inventory and check job schedules in real-time when they are back in the office or even in the board room.
Offering this workflow flexibility is a top priority for the millennial workforce. Historically, manufacturing required human interaction to monitor machines and production. But now that these processes are becoming more automated with the aforementioned technology, millennials can access critical information from anywhere in the organization, whether that’s on the manufacturing floor, in the office or from the comfort of their own home.
And durable devices are ideal for these mission-critical professionals that divide their time between the office and rugged field environments and require a high-performance, large-form computing system. In fact, not only do consumer devices fail up to four times more often than enterprise-class devices due to hardware or software issues, but each failure results in longer stretches of lost productivity and more IT support time to resolve, per VDC Research. Furthermore, consumer-grade tablets can’t withstand repeated drops, spills or dust, none of which can be avoided day-in and day-out in the manufacturing environment. Additionally, rugged tablets offer specific add-ons that fit the needs of manufacturing workers, such as barcode scanners to check orders, secure docking stations for forklifts and vehicles, and straps and holsters that allows workers to keep their devices on them at all times.
Mobility’s Role in the Future of Manufacturing
While manufacturers are busy hiring the next generation of information workers, there’s another looming transformation that’s on the horizon: Industry 4.0, which incorporates automation and data exchange into manufacturing technology. With this, manufacturers are reviewing operational processes that can be streamlined through automation and the introduction of new technologies connected through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), such as advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, data capture and analytics. Using sophisticated sensors, these technologies can accurately and consistently capture and communicate data, allowing for organizations to identify inefficiencies in real-time, saving time, money and supporting business intelligence efforts.
To truly realize the benefits of having advanced technology and increased automation tied to Industry 4.0, manufacturers must still rely on their workers, who are needed to monitor, adjust, maintain and repair these computer-controlled stations. These workers need devices with which to both interact with the machines, and coordinate their activities with the control room. As the new workforce has been raised as digital natives with a preference for mobile technology, tablet devices naturally make sense to serve as mobile command centers.
With the rise in the millennial workforce and the adoption of Industry 4.0 technology, the manufacturing industry is in the midst of two major transformations. However, despite operations becoming more automated through advanced technology, manufacturers must remember that people are still at the core of the workforce. Now that millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, manufacturers can no longer ignore their preference for digital technology in the workplace. Instead, they must rely on this generation to become the proverbial bridge in the tech knowledge gap that occurs in cross-generational teams. Millennials are key in the seamless transfer and implementation of all future advancements across the manufacturing floor.
Mark Holleran serves as CEO and president of Xplore Technologies. Since 2006, he has managed the day-to-day operations of Xplore, including marketing, operations, engineering, and finance. Prior to being appointed CEO, Holleran served as Xplore’s COO and president from March 2006 to March 2017, and vice president of sales from April 2003 to February 2006. Holleran brings more than 30 years of leadership and computing experience to Xplore.