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Engaging the workforce as Industry 4.0 takes hold

24 May 2017 By  Jo Walker
Engaging the workforce as Industry 4.0 takes hold

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The tsunami that should not ignore the human factor

The Internet of Things is changing the way manufacturing industries operate. With massive advances in technology such as robotics, cloud computing, 3 D printing and automation, this fourth industrial revolution is having an impact on workforce communications and engagement.

For each new innovation, there is a potential impact on engaging the workforce, from shop floor to manager, and manager to manager. Staff engagement has never been more important.

While technologists are keen to point out the opportunity costs and offsets in technology investments, an area they always fail to factor in is how they will keep the workforce motivated and loyal as new devices, processes and task replacement bites in.

Technology can free up a manager's time but rarely does it replace the management of people in addressing their needs as a collective workforce.
Managers in busy plants deal with materials, tight schedules and customer deliveries and while staff can benefit from using mobile devices and apps, being available and solving problems in real time should be factored into the whole workforce engagement strategy.

The secret lies in harnessing the power of technology to the power of people. Dovetailing advancement into human face to face contact, essential for workforce communications and engagement.

Creating a culture of engagement

A more engaged workforce can increase productivity by 22% (Harvard study).

Creating a culture of engagement through establishing the values of a company is one way to do this. If these are being used and lived by it gives employees a better understanding of where the company is heading and how they fit into the business.

Most people go to work to achieve and make progress, they feel happy when they know they are growing and contributing to the bigger picture. To do this an employer needs to convey to them they are doing a good job.

Creating the right environment

Engaged shop floor staff will be less likely to look elsewhere. Employees not only want to feel valued, they want to feel they have control over their lives and a good work life balance.

Employees need to feel that their contribution counts. One way to do this is to create an environment where ideas are collected and discussed. Is there a shared value of continuous improvement and growth? Feedback? Do they feel part of the team and valued?

Employees want full communication and to be kept informed.

To keep employees engaged, it's all about communication, transparency and sharing company information. How this is conveyed to your staff is also an important driver.

They want to know if the company is hitting production targets, and if so by how much and if the company is doing well overall. Technology is an enabler but it takes manager intervention to make effective communications happen. Managers need no longer be constrained to their office desks but are now able to interact on shop floor level.

The Internet of Things is changing the way things are done for engineering and manufacturing industries on an unprecedented scale. This seismic wave is unstoppable but the disruption and displacement it causes to processes and tasks should not ignore the human factor of engagement. Ignore at your peril, both from the experience factor which can make a manufacturing firm more diversified, and a recruitment cost factor.

Click here to read: How every Engineering Director can increase staff happiness.

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