Three steps to a more agile workforce

January 2022 News

Recruiting, managing and retaining skilled workers have remained critical priorities for manufacturing organisations. The challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic not only highlighted those necessities, but they also expanded them.

As baby boomers continue to leave the workforce and take their experience and knowledge with them, the significance of growing a strong workforce to replace them becomes even more crucial. Jobs and skill sets have changed dramatically over the past three years, as technology and automation continue to play a more important role in manufacturing.

Rachael Conrad.

At the recent Automation Fair 2021 from Rockwell Automation, Rachael Conrad, vice president and general manager, customer support and maintenance, Rockwell Automation, identified three strategies the company is using to build, manage and retain that workforce.

By attracting, augmenting and training employees, Conrad hopes to keep her group of about 3000 engineers, situated around the globe, content and engaged. “We have 15 remote support centres around the world,” explained Conrad. “We couldn’t send someone into a plant during the pandemic. We use PTC’s Vuforia Chalk and we also created digital assist libraries for things people do repetitively.”

Attracting talent to manufacturing and to your company is the first of three interlocking strategies to build a workforce for the future. Giving that workforce flexibility by offering support and augmentation is the second step. Finally, those employees need to be trained and retrained to stay relevant and advance their capabilities. “We need to change the brand image of manufacturing; it’s not dark and dirty,” added Conrad. “More companies need to think about what manufacturing looks like. Millennials are used to walking around with their phones. Your company image is most important. You have to get people to come and then to want to stay.”

“That image of manufacturing starts in the schools,” said Sherman Joshua, director, workforce and competency, lifecycle services, at Rockwell Automation. “What do we teach about industrial manufacturing? The pictures of manufacturing in books are in black and white. Are you bringing students into your facility on tours to show them what manufacturing looks like today? Show them what lifestyle they can have. Take them around the parking lot to see the fast cars and nice trucks that employees drive. And talk about the software skills they need.”

Building a robust workforce starts with a plan, emphasised Joshua. “It starts with your business strategy. Ask some questions. What do your customers need? What can you bring to the market? What skills and competencies are needed?

“And be sure you understand your demographics. Who is retiring? What skills do they have? Leverage new collaboration tools. People are using such tools to reach across silos within the companies.”

Once you have the identified a gap and aligned the strategy, how do you fill it? “Look at things like remote access and as-a-service models,” suggested Joshua. “Technology is another key area. Give workers faster access to knowledge and skills and analytics. Augmented reality is a technology that is an investment in people. As we look at the people investment, how do we train and retain? What is our engagement level?”

An active plan is necessary to drive engagement. “Investing in your people drives them,” explained Joshua. “Make time for training.”

Conrad’s group also accelerated e-learning during the pandemic. “Our growth in e-learning was 400% last year, largely because of the pandemic,” she concluded. “We are competing with everybody for talent, not just other automation companies. Part of your success is in the culture you create and the environment.”

For more information contact Michelle Junius, Rockwell Automation, +27 11 654 9700,


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