Written by Tyler Lyman, MicroBenefits CEO

The global industrial automation market surpassed projected forecasts for 2016, reaching $209 billion—a 26% increase in growth in merely two years. Buoyed by accelerating global economies, factory automation has become the gateway to productivity, sustainability and efficiency in supply chains. Employers may view automation as the panacea to their constant worries regarding churn of their young workforce. However, we cannot just retool production lines: We also need to retool the way we think about our employees in an increasingly automated manufacturing environment.

Factories strategically planning for automation have realized a disconnect lies between the skill set of their current workforce and the skill set needed to succeed at automation. In fact, the skill sets and mindsets you need in your workforce do not exist anywhere. You have line workers that perform specific tasks. You need specialists who have technical skills, can solve problems autonomously, and are motivated and invested in your company. These qualities do not exist in the current workforce in sufficient numbers to meet the needs of your supply chain.

If you cannot find these workers, then what do you do? Create them. Use your existing workforce. Your workers know your process. They know your rules, culture and understand your brand. Oftentimes these things can prove more difficult to instill and teach than even technical skill sets. Automation will naturally take the place of many current jobs, creating in its place jobs that pay more, promote stability and engage motivated individuals who want to learn.

This requires significant investment in your workers to train, upskill, and provide opportunities for advancement and leadership. You will want to select your most engaged employees who show aptitude and potential within your organization. How do you identify this type of employee?

Over 80% of Chinese migrant laborers own a smartphone, making it a powerful tool for reaching and training this hard-to-reach population. Workers have engaged in over 320,000 hours of training in the past two years—the equivalent of over 36 years—via MicroBenefits’ mobile platform, which has taught us something about the type of individual that has the ability to succeed in an automated factory environment. A key characteristic includes the ability and desire to continually learn. Workers who exhibit a desire to keep learning will stay engaged in their jobs and help their peers do the same, ultimately help the factories for which they work deliver better quality product on time.

Once you identify this motivated group, how do you provide opportunities for them to effectively learn and grow in your organization? Factory workers often face the challenge of limited time for outside activities, precluding them from engaging in meaningful coursework that actually provide the knowledge and skills to progress in their current jobs.

The more than 750,000 users of our platform have shown us firsthand how gamification of the learning process helps overcome worker fatigue and results in higher retention of material. Data generated via our app corroborates with a recent study by the University of Colorado, which found that participants in gamified learning scored 14% higher in skill-based knowledge assessments and realized 9% higher rates of retention.

Automation will vastly improve how factories operate, creating higher quality products, all while generating less waste and less impact on the environment. In addition to these improvements, automation also provides an opportunity to modernize the way we think about frontline workers, and tap into the potential of a workforce that has remained untapped.

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“We have a lot of regular skills trainings in our department, but my understanding of operations and sales has been really vague. After taking some of the courses (from MicroBenefits’ mobile app), I feel like I learned more about our organizational structure, where we’re heading as a company and how we set production plans.” ~ Mu Zhixian, factory operator

References:

Gamification, Games, and Learning: What Managers and Practitioners Need to Know.
http://www.elearningguild.com/research/archives/index.cfm?id=168&action=viewonly

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