We are living in a time of unprecedented changes in society, the economy, and the workforce. Like those that came before it, industrial revolution is characterized by a new way of working. Technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence (AI), big data, robotics, and the internet of things (IoT) are changing the way the world economy functions. Although these changes are being felt across industries, no workers will feel the consequences of the digital revolution as strongly as frontline workers. This is especially true in the manufacturing industry, as the adoption of new technologies has dramatically increased the speed, range, and intensity of production.
Despite representing eighty percent of the global workforce, frontline workers have overwhelmingly felt underprepared, and in some cases, left behind by technological progress. For many years, many frontline employees have assumed emerging technologies—especially automation and AI—would render their jobs obsolete. Recent studies confirm that frontline employees’ anxiety over new technologies is a persistent issue. According to a study conducted by Microsoft, 46% of frontline workers feel pressure to adapt to new technologies over fear of losing their jobs. Moreover, 55% say they have not received adequate training on technology that they routinely use in their jobs and have instead had to adapt to using them on the fly.
The technology gap in frontline workers has never been more obvious than over the past two years. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote working, smart working, analytics, and digital communication. Workers around the globe have been forced to adapt to new styles of working, all while bearing the emotional and psychological burdens of adjusting to life during a global pandemic. Frontline workers have been forced to adapt to changing conditions more quickly than workers in any other function. Since the start of the pandemic, they have kept grocery stores stocked, provided essential healthcare services, maintained electric grids, manufactured and distributed the products that the world depends on, and so much more. This crunch has left many workers feeling overwhelmed, over-worked, and under-appreciated. The same Microsoft study found that 51% of frontline workers don’t feel valued as other employees.
The pandemic has only highlighted a problem that has been brewing for years: technology is changing the way we work. It is altering the skills required by companies, and workers do not feel they are adequately prepared for the transition. The good news for companies and organizations is that it is not too late to prioritize employee learning and development. In fact, developing a comprehensive re-skilling and up-skilling program is a proven way to increase engagement, retention, productivity, and employee confidence in their abilities to effectively utilize technology in their job functions.
Despite the growing pervasiveness of technology in the workplace, experts all agree that human capital will play the most important role in the continuing success of companies. Companies whose success relies on the backs of frontline workers can all agree on one thing: the business is only successful when its people are successful. This is the primary reason why it is critical that frontline workers are given every opportunity to succeed in their roles, especially as the nature of work continues to change with the digital revolution.
There are several important steps that companies and organizations can take to empower and engage workers through technological transformation. Above all, bridging the digital skill gap begins on a cultural level within the organization. In other words, company leaders can prioritize building a culture of learning and continuous improvement that emphasizes the up-skilling and re-skilling of employees across functions. With this cultural change undoubtedly comes an organizational shift from a logic of execution to a logic of improvement. With this, managers and HR professionals can focus on identifying and developing the skills necessary for the workforce of the future, and workers can feel like they are being adequately prepared to react to changes in their roles. Additionally, it is essential that managers continue to encourage soft skills training, as soft skills remain the greatest qualitative difference between “man” and “machine”. This is the key reason human employees represent the heart of the business.
Re-skilling your frontline workers doesn’t have to be a battle between humans and machines. Ultimately, technology is just a tool created by humans for humans. While new technologies can be intimidating for many frontline workers, with adequate support and training opportunities, these same technologies can be incredible sources of opportunity and advancement.
Are you interested in learning more about engaging and developing front line workers in the age of digital transformation? Schedule a consultation with one of our experts today: https://meetings.hubspot.com/adaptive-meeting/discovery-call