Manufacturing Reboots Talent Engine In A New Age Of Digital Disruption

Editor’s note: Matt Reilly is the senior managing director for the automotive, industrial, infrastructure and travel industries at Accenture Strategy

Whether a company makes clothing, household cleaning products, cars, healthcare or nearly anything else, it needs people with the right skills. Like other businesses, today’s manufacturers are going digital; operating in an era of change and volatility that has made flexibility critical to their success.

But to be able to respond to a dynamic marketplace, manufacturers need talent that can accomplish the mission. For instance, as companies seek ways to scale up and down in response to customer demand, they are redesigning their physical footprints to further enable a cost-effective, flexible operating structure.

To have end-to-end visibility of materials moving across their supply chains, many are considering the construction of digitally enabled control towers. These are essentially dashboards that centralize information that manufacturers need to understand customer demand, capacity, inventory, order/shipment statuses and even the progress that third-party logistics partners are making with deliveries to and from factories or warehouses.

While it may be a chicken-or-egg scenario (or in this case, new digital equipment or the talent shortage), establishing a workforce that maximizes manufacturing capacity and asset availability is important.

Analytics, telemetry data and cloud-based systems can revolutionize the way that manufacturers manage their assets. They enable manufacturers to continuously monitor and predict asset reliability so that maintenance activities can be scheduled with the least impact on production.

As 3D printing comes of age, it can be a time saver and cost saver for manufacturers. For instance, instead of making a piece of equipment in the Eastern United States and shipping it to the Northwest, a manufacturer can coordinate with a logistics company that offers 3D-printing services and sell rights to the digital model to the logistics services provider that can then print the parts in a center near the customer.

While these digital capabilities may maximize productivity and help a manufacturer become more responsive to its customers, they also demand new skills. So what can manufacturers or other businesses do to stoke their talent pipelines?

As a first step, companies need to place a greater emphasis on defining what skills their organization needs. These requirements can include any combination of technical expertise, professional certifications, previous work experience and so-called “soft skills,” including communications and leadership skills. However, it is important for companies to remain realistic throughout this process and consider that it may not be possible for one candidate to possess all of the skills they are seeking. In that case, it may be more important to identify reliable, hardworking, inquisitive people who demonstrate a work ethic, willingness to learn and the flexibility to adapt in a changing work environment.

Once companies have a firm sense of the skills they desire, there are two main ways to go about cultivating talent: Tap the power of an organization’s existing workforce and build those skills from within, or develop new talent externally with a trusted network of partners.

In the first approach, employers must identify which of their existing employees possess the motivation and aptitude to pursue a long-term, progressive career path within the organization.

Under such a model, employers can create training programs, apprenticeships, externships and other skill-building opportunities to help employees move beyond their current role and fill gaps within the organization. In today’s high-tech world, such a multi-tiered talent development strategy is likely to incorporate self-paced, digital learning experiences that are available to employees when it is most convenient for them.

Another viable option for accessing talent is to partner with community colleges, vocational programs and other community-based organizations to establish the company as an employer of choice with potential job seekers. However, introducing the company is only part of the equation; companies also need to work with these institutions and organizations to create and launch education and training programs that develop the specific skills they need. With this approach, employers also can monitor and adjust their curriculum to ensure they are creating a robust pipeline of qualified candidates.

Of course, developing skills, whether internally or externally, requires a company to make a significant investment. The skills gap took years to emerge and it will not be fixed overnight.

Addressing the situation is important. Disrupters play the stronger offensive game in today’s volatile business environment. Talent can play an important role in helping companies execute that offensive strategy. But only with the right skills for a new business reality on the offensive team can a company swiftly respond to changes as they arise in today’s global business world.