A modern, smart manufacturing business needs a smart, skilled workforce.

While organizations often talk about how their talent is their most important resource, right now, these resources are becoming increasingly scarce. This is due to the digital skills gap currently impacting the industry. This disparity represents a significant issue for manufacturers and will likely spread into wider operations unless leaders are able to bolster their workforce’s digital capabilities.

This issue has been highlighted further over the past two years since the initial outbreak of the pandemic. Global manufacturing companies quickly pivoted to more digitalized processes and practices to continue operating in a safe, resilient manner. This comes with added significance now that companies and employees are more commonly working from home or remotely in a sector that is embracing the hybrid approach.

 A Lasting Impact

In the past few years, every company has been forced to integrate digital solutions into their existing processes. From the use of virtual communication tools through to more advanced applications, such as 3D modelling and remote monitoring systems, plans to digitalize have been accelerated.

As a result, employees have now become used to interacting with digital applications for all manner of workplace functions. However, this familiarity will only help to further expose the gap between the digitally native or savvy and those who are struggling to adapt. The companies that can most effectively bridge this gap through smart applications will have an advantage.

The lasting impact of the pandemic across the manufacturing sector will be about more than just digital literacy. Being able to use a smartphone or communicate digitally with colleagues is not enough to survive, now it is about ensuring your people can actively participate in the new digital economy. This could extend into areas such as coding, using cloud services, or data analysis – skills that many people, even those who have grown up with this technology, do not currently have.

To truly eradicate the skills gap in your organization, manufacturers are going to have to cultivate the internal skills necessary for greater digital operations, as well as attract talent in an increasingly competitive, diverse recruitment market.

 So how can this be achieved?

Digital Literacy Trickles Down

Before the pandemic, the digital world was important, now, it’s business critical. Companies are currently dealing with a higher volume of data that is continually growing on daily basis with no sign of slowing down. Machines are producing actionable data at an ever-increasing pace with companies now looking to back up gut feel with trusted insights as they race to adopt data-driven strategies.

For manufacturing businesses to adapt to this flood of data, they will need their workforce to be data- and digital-literate. After all, there is little value in having all this useful data if there is no one capable of understanding and implementing it. This is the issue that lies at the heart of the digital skills gap: difficulty in getting the right information to the right people at the right time.

A simple approach to addressing this issue may be to train staff to be more data literate. However, as opposed to establishing a data-driven culture from the bottom up, it is the business leaders within a company who need to be the first to understand the value and purpose of the data. When this culture comes from the top, leaders can identify where to invest their resources and how to set expectations. When the wider workforce sees boardroom executives and their immediate seniors taking data-driven processes seriously, they will look to ensure their skills are up to the task as well, helping in turn to close the skills gap.

Upskilling is Evolving

With the right culture in place, the next step is to promote education. Providing upskilling opportunities with training that’s specifically connected to improving digital abilities is key. But with the digital landscape continuing to evolve year-on-year, employees must also evolve their skills with the times. Giving your people the knowhow and confidence to embrace change as a positive that helps them to seize new opportunities can help shorten the skills gap from within.

Finding workers with the right digital skills is essential to fill vacancies, not just on the plant floor or with research and development teams, but across your entire organization. This culture of upskilling needs to permeate all departments as within the next generation of workers as it’s likely that core digital skills will soon be as important as foundational skills such as reading and writing. Digital upskilling and proficiency will be required in many non-technical roles, spreading into sales, CRM, marketing, finance, and HR, in order to fully realize the benefits of digital transformation.

Give your Employees the Tools they Need

While educating and upskilling your employees is vital to improving digital skills, they don’t need to be made to figure this out for themselves. AI and AR tools can be incredibly powerful here. This can help create a virtual environment in which experience can be gained and knowledge shared between workers, instilling the necessary skills your people need before transitioning them to a real-world setting.

Having the right tools in place to support them helps drive better decision making and streamlines operations, in turn lowering digital literacy barriers and reducing the impact the skills gap can have on your operations. Generating a digitally confident workforce is impossible when your workers aren’t given the right tools to help them hone their skills.

Clearing the Gap

Significant work is needed from senior figures within manufacturing organizations to help employees bridge the digital skills gap. Doing so will help support future job requirements in a more digitalized world and allow them to continually adapt to emerging technologies and new ways doing things.

Giving your employees the digital tools they need will help your organization better handle the ongoing skills gap, helping foster the smart workforce needed for organizational growth and development.

Learn more about equipping your workforce for the future of manufacturing from the resources available on the Management Perspectives hub. There, you will find insights and expertise from Rockwell Automation, our customers, and our partners, helping you to unify your people, processes and technology and achieve better business outcomes.