October 03, 2019

Elevating Your Workforce in an Era of Automation

by Guest Blogger

Automation has revolutionized many industries, including our own, and continues to do so. Manufacturing reliable, consistent fenestration products has become incredibly efficient due to advances in robotics used in fabricating shops all over the world.

Sometimes, though, the thought of a fully automated future can sound a bit scary. Research firm McKinsey & Company estimates that close to half of U.S. jobs could be automated within the next decade. Whether or not that pans out is uncertain, but no one wants to feel like they’re being replaced. So, for organizations investing in automation, getting ahead of potential negative attitudes is as important as anything.

Here are a few things to consider:

Communicate the benefits. Automation helps us work smarter, safer and more efficiently. A shortage in labor has created a crisis, and as it becomes more challenging to fill the jobs required of traditional manufacturing techniques, automated equipment helps us overcome those challenges by eliminating much of the manual labor needed to complete necessary tasks.

Clearly demonstrating those benefits to employees is an important step. Take safety for instance: Automated handling and transport on a plant floor can help significantly reduce fatigue and risk of injury associated with critical tasks. On the commercial side, traditional spacer application for large-scale glass involves multiple people handling large spacer frames and aligning them with the glass manually. Automation helps mitigate risk throughout the process.

Elevating your workforce. With the implementation of automation, organizations are free to allocate their best employees to high-value tasks throughout the plant. So, what skills should we be evaluating and building to succeed in a modern, more automated industry?

A recent article published in the Harvard Business Review takes a wide look at skills that won’t—or can’t—be automated in a variety of industries. The results might not be what you’d expect. Per HBR:
For example, consider the job of being a physician: It is clear that diagnosing illnesses will soon (if not already) be accomplished better by machines than humans. Machine learning is spectacularly effective when data sets are available for training and testing, which is the case for a wide range of diseases and ailments. However, what about sitting with a family to discuss treatment options? This is far less likely to be automated in the foreseeable future.

The article suggests that nonroutine, human work tasks will be near impossible to automate. For us in the fenestration space, it’s important to remember that as the technology we use evolves, so must the nature of the skills of the workers who make our products possible.

Some good qualities never change. Adaptability. Open-mindedness. Critical thinking. A willingness to learn. All these things make for a high-value employee, no matter the industry. And on today’s and tomorrow’s plant floor, it’s more important than ever that our people are well rounded and tech savvy. As automated systems and new software are implemented, employees must be knowledgeable about:

  • Digital platforms and software systems. Why they’re necessary, how they work, and the ability to troubleshoot associated issues.
  • New equipment and the maintenance tasks necessary to keep it running smoothly.
  • New capabilities that new equipment has made possible.
  • An evolving, multigenerational workforce and the ability to navigate it.
Finding these kinds of people isn’t easy—but when we do, we need to invest in their success and give them the right opportunities to learn and succeed. Our businesses depend on it.
Questions or comments? Contact me directly at Larry.Johnson@Quanex.com.

For more information about Quanex visit www.quanex.com
Posted: October 03, 2019 by Guest Blogger Filed under: automation, employee, Workforce