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Why Upskilling in Manufacturing Is Key to Bridging the Skills Gap


Why Upskilling in Manufacturing Is Key to Bridging the Skills Gap

Before COVID-19, manufacturers understood the importance of continuously training their workforce.

They planned to spend a collective $26.2 billion in 2020 to help employees improve their existing skills, and around three-quarters said they were either launching or expanding workforce training efforts. The pandemic put many of those investments on hold — but it also rearranged their priorities. As we emerge into the fated “new normal,” training must reevaluate any slated reskilling and upskilling efforts.

So what’s the difference between reskilling and upskilling? Reskilling moves someone laterally between different jobs so they’re competent at multiple skills. On the other hand, upskilling moves someone vertically through a process of gaining skill and specialization around the job they have currently or the career path they’re following. It’s the difference between training an employee broadly versus deeply.

Both approaches are imperative coming out of the pandemic. But with many changes happening at once in manufacturing, upskilling, in particular, can help employees adapt so they can continue on their pathways successfully, ensure efficiency, and achieve operational excellence.

The Post-Pandemic Manufacturing Workforce

The pandemic proved that it’s time to commit to digital transformation and ensure internet-connected and data-driven technologies steer all aspects of production and links within a supply chain.

Technology will play a drastically larger role in manufacturing in 2021 and beyond as companies strive to make themselves more dynamic, efficient, and resilient. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has clearly arrived in the form of artificial intelligence, robotics, and analytics, and it’s up to the post-pandemic workforce to use these transformative technologies effectively.

At the same time, it will be up to manufacturers to prepare them. As production becomes more technical, it creates a skills gap in manufacturing — one that’s far too wide to fix with recruiting alone. For workers to make the most of technologies such as IoT or augmented reality, they will need to build on their existing skills and acquire new ones.

Manufacturers that apply upskilling and reskilling efforts intelligently— and succeed at both — can expect their workers to make a bigger impact in less time. Alternately, factories that update technology without updating their workforce are only courting failure. And for those few manufacturers not widely embracing new technologies, a skilled workforce will be crucial for surviving in the post-pandemic economy.

The tools garner all the attention, but it’s the users who really matter. Manufacturers that subscribe to this maxim will start planning their upskilling initiatives now and make them a top priority throughout 2021 and beyond.

3 Ways to Build the Workforce of the Future

The sooner workers adapt to the new normal, the better. Unfortunately, the human mind isn’t great at retaining tons of new information at once: We forget up to half of what we learn 20 minutes after learning it, and another half by a day later (a phenomenon known as the forgetting curve). But if only one-fourth of reskilling and upskilling efforts stick, the workforce will lag behind.

Repetition has been shown to help with information retention and memory recall, but it’s not always clear how to circle back through key concepts without the exercise becoming redundant or inefficient. Use these strategies in your upskilling initiatives instead:

1. Create video content. In-person training requires careful scheduling and could distract participants for hours. (And of course, questions remain about when it will be feasible again.) Delivering those same training modules via video helps workers access them whenever it’s convenient and consume information in smaller chunks. Plus, it’s especially helpful for those who prefer to learn using a video medium or find it easier to follow.

2. Leverage virtual reality. If video provides education, virtual reality provides experience. It gives users a way to walk through new processes and practice new skills in a hands-on environment as opposed to, say, watching or reading about processes. When used alongside the video, VR allows manufacturers to deliver training whenever, wherever, and to whoever needs it. It secures results, too: Users retain 75% of information using VR training compared to just 5% for lecture-style learning.

3. Install a training platform. Manufacturers often think of training as something they perform occasionally. For it to make an impact, however, they should start thinking of it as a resource to provide constantly.

With this in mind, create a digital channel where training content (videos, VR programs, guides, etc.) is housed and managed so workers can access this content on-demand and managers can check their progress. But don’t stop there — supplement the channel with quizzes, activities, and contests to keep workers immersed in the material.

With the right commitment to upskilling and reskilling, manufacturers can turn a workforce built for the past into one that’s fine-tuned for the future. The key will be to get started as soon as possible to ensure the information sticks. Are your workers well-braced for technology’s upcoming tidal wave?


Daniel Sztutwojner is chief customer officer and co-founder of Beekeeper, the single point of contact for your frontline workforce. Beekeeper’s mobile platform brings communications and tools into one place to improve agility, productivity, and safety. Daniel is passionate about helping businesses operate more efficiently.


4 Strategies Manufacturers Can Adopt to Increase Agility

In turbulent, transformative times like these, the term “business agility” seemingly appears everywhere. And though it’s easy to imagine even the world’s largest tech companies or consulting firms making a sudden pivot, it’s harder to picture a manufacturer with a factory full of heavy equipment doing the same thing.

So what does business agility mean in the context of manufacturing or construction? It’s less about the speed and scope of changes being proposed and more about communicating effectively across large, dispersed organizations. When disruptions break the supply chain or cause demand to plummet, manufacturers must be able to encourage an information flow across all corners of the enterprise. Agility depends on the free flow of information and the ability to guide a team directly.

The good news is that manufacturers are used to disruptions. They regularly deal with supply chain issues, sudden regulatory changes, or shifting market dynamics. Adaptation is in their nature.

The bad news is that COVID-19 puts a unique strain on the industry that makes agility more important yet less accessible. Specifically, factories and construction sites that have had to either scale back or shut down in response to public health requirements can’t exactly pick their work up remotely. Teams are spread out more than ever and cut off from core assets — and that includes everything from machinery to data.

These are circumstances manufacturers don’t have contingency plans for. Meeting the moment will require extensive brainstorming, aligned leadership, and quick and decisive action — but none of those things will be easy with stakeholders scattered to the wind.

Today’s Realities

All of this means manufacturers need a new concept of business agility along with a fresh sense of commitment.

Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen heavy-duty industries forced to shut down suddenly and reopen as quickly as possible. While opening, they’ve had to integrate new social distancing requirements into all aspects of operations and vastly expand health and safety measures. In some cases, they’re even learning how to stop sharing pens and clipboards. And those are just the implications for operations.

Unstable economic forces mean that supply and demand could be in flux for the foreseeable future. Granted, some manufacturers are booming right now — but others have seen business crater, and the long-term fallout of this pandemic remains to be seen. Manufacturers must reexamine (and in many cases revise) their plans, strategies, and fundamental business assumptions. Everything is up in the air.

On top of everything, this pandemic is accelerating the shift away from in-person interactions toward digital ones. Relationships with customers, suppliers, employees, and all other stakeholders are evolving because of the need to socially distance. More than that, though, this health crisis has underscored the fact that digital environments are more efficient, convenient, and customizable than the alternatives. This could prove to be a tipping point for digital transformation throughout the manufacturing industry.

It’s hard to overstate the pace of change right now. The degree to which some manufacturers have already responded is impressive; we’ve seen liquor producers start making hand sanitizer and sports equipment manufacturers adapt assembly lines to create face masks. Agility is possible in the face of this crisis, but manufacturers must take the initiative.

“Business as usual” stopped being relevant with the first COVID-19 cases, and there are serious questions about whether we’ll ever return to normal. That means something different for every manufacturer while still placing the same obligation on all of them: Stay agile or get swept under.

Building the Basis of Business Agility

Manufacturers need to grow agile as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, moving fast while staying coordinated is never easy. Apply these strategies to help guide your transformative efforts:

1. Share information in real time. People need answers right now, whether that’s about health and safety measures, new workplace practices, changing strategies, and everything else that’s been uprooted by the pandemic.

The less accessible this information is, the more disorganized things become. Sharing information in real time so everyone has the answers they need on demand keeps communication issues from making a bad situation worse. Strive to be as transparent as possible and to make information highly accessible.

2. Identify information bottlenecks. The pandemic exacerbated the existing information bottlenecks in organizations and created a number of new ones. Analyzing how internal communication works — how information flows through an organization — identifies where these bottlenecks are and suggests how they can be resolved.

Better access to information (of all types and at all levels) helps accelerate and improve decision-making. Before COVID-19, 86% of companies surveyed said frontline workers need more insights at their disposal. That priority is even higher now.

3. Lead from the bottom up. In any fast-changing scenario, insights from the front lines are what matter most. If executives ignore the ideas and perspectives of workers who are actually in the thick of operations, they miss both the red flags that require attention and the innovative ideas necessary to meet this moment. Information needs to flow freely and broadly within an organization, from one-on-one and small group communication all the way up to corporate messaging. Instead of giving lip service to this priority, make sure there’s a direct pipeline.

4. Create new touchpoints. Information from outside the organization — from customers or suppliers — is also immensely valuable right now. It’s vital to business agility because it helps a manufacturer explore how it can pivot without alienating the partners it relies on. Take those outside insights seriously and solicit as many as possible. Convenient digital touchpoints make it easy for others to supply complaints, suggestions, and praise, all of which inform a manufacturer’s next move.

Remember that agility is all about alignment. Any company — manufacturer or otherwise — can evolve on the fly as long as it can move as one. Communication is what cements that connection and helps achieve unity across the board.


Daniel Sztutwojner is chief customer officer and co-founder of Beekeeper, the single point of contact for your frontline workforce. Beekeeper’s mobile platform brings communications and tools into one place to improve agility, productivity, and safety. Daniel is passionate about helping businesses operate more efficiently. He has a background in applied mathematics and more than eight years of experience in sales and customer success.


3 Ways to Ramp Up Your Internal Communications and Improve the Bottom Line

A workplace should be more than simply a place where employees carry out their jobs. It should also be a place where they feel empowered to grow, develop, contribute to the organization, and feel the direct impacts they have.

Think of your workplace like a car: Communication functions like the car’s internal computer, sending the correct signals to disparate parts so they can function, work together, and deliver a top-notch finished product or service. The best way to create this environment is to implement tools and processes that promote internal communications.

Case in point: 71% of frontline workers state that new communication tools increase their productivity, which improves the bottom line with timely communication between head offices, team leads, and frontline workers. Because better communication tools and processes also lead to less time spent in meetings, frontline managers can focus on their tasks while eliminating nonvalue-added steps.

As companies navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of internal communications becomes even clearer: An Edelman study recently found that workers currently trust their employers more than they trust the government when it comes to information about the pandemic.

During these turbulent times, your workers require empathy and need to feel safe. It’s absolutely essential to remain in close contact with your teams and keep them informed of ever changing regulations and policies that impact the way they work.

The Case for Revamping Your Communications

Over the long run, businesses that implement effective internal communications strategies tend to have more aligned and engaged employees who outperform in their roles. This is because they’re enabled to easily access up-to-date information and freely share ideas. As a result, companies reap many benefits, including improved employee morale, reduced turnover, better customer service, and increased innovation through collaboration.

Beyond that, digital communication tools can also provide a big boost to a business’s bottom line. Employees often waste precious working hours searching for documents and information because companies don’t store these materials in a strategic fashion. We know that, on average, employees waste about 8% of their working time per week, according to Deloitte. Depending on your company’s size, that could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent every month on simply searching for information to do the job right.

To make it easier for your frontline workers to find what they need, opt for a single point of contact that includes all their communications and tools.

3 Steps for Facilitating Impactful Internal Communications

Currently, not nearly enough businesses capitalize on the benefits of internal communications. In fact, an alarming 60% of companies have “no long-term strategy or vision” for internal communication. The reason behind this is nothing new: It’s because business leaders have historically resisted the adoption of new communication tools and strategies.

For example, when email first emerged, a common reaction to the technology was: “Why do I need an email account when I can just send a fax to my employees?” It took several years before companies wholeheartedly embraced email and made it a natural part of daily communication.

Today, emails are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to workplace communication. Widespread smartphone usage has unlocked an entirely new world of options. Plus, 80% of the global workforce is made up of frontline workers who aren’t tethered to a desk. It’s clearly time for companies to embrace a mobile-first communication strategy that effectively and efficiently loops in every employee in real-time.

The following steps will help your company revamp its internal communications infrastructure:

1. Audit your current systems and processes

Conduct a comprehensive assessment of how your company currently communicates. Then, identify all of the different tools and methods each team uses to exchange information. Keep in mind that managers and executives have completely different workflows than frontline workers. Leaders should either spend time in the field to better understand how these individuals communicate with each other or conduct a series of in-depth conversations to ensure they have an accurate picture and can effectively coach employees.

Ultimately, you’ll likely end up with a long list of communication methods, including emails, phone calls, text messages, digital files, paper documents, and more. From there, your goal should be to eliminate manual paper-based processes and narrow the list down to as few digital avenues as possible. Streamlined internal communications will help you ensure consistent messaging and better organizational alignment.

2. Give every employee a connection and voice.

Each employee at your company should have a unique digital identity. Regardless of their roles, employees should be able to log into an online communication portal that allows them to send individual or group messages, access important documents, and read companywide announcements.

In many cases, companies will spend millions of dollars on complex digital systems but grant access only to a small group of employees. Many other companies will fail to properly utilize the tool itself, and the project ultimately fizzles out because employees refuse to adopt the system.

In reality, you don’t need a complicated piece of software to accomplish your communication goals. A simple, intuitive, and relatively inexpensive mobile app could do the trick — and your workers will thank you for offering this option. After all, modern-day employees are digitally savvy and want to communicate with colleagues using their smartphones.

Likewise, encourage your frontline employees to speak up using these communication tools. How you encourage that conversation will depend on your organization, but you should be able to understand their perspective and offer a sense of belonging by implementing a bottom-up communication strategy.

3. Follow up and seek feedback.

After meetings, many companies overlook an essential element of effective internal communications: following up with employees. Upload a recap of every meeting to your digital platform and ensure everyone is clear on the messaging and aligned around the next steps.

And don’t forget that internal communications should be a two-way street. Throughout the year, host a combination of town halls, webinars, and digital Q&A sessions that allow workers across all roles to share ideas and insights with the leadership team. Surveys and polls are another effective way to collect feedback — whether they follow meetings or events or simply function as a quick pulse-check. All in all, provide ample opportunities for each employee at your company to let his or her voice be heard.

It’s time for business leaders to start thinking more critically about how communication ties into productivity, profitability, and safety — especially during a global pandemic. By clinging onto inefficient, outdated communication tools, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity to create a stronger, safer, and more productive workforce.


Daniel Sztutwojner is chief customer officer and co-founder of Beekeeper, the single point of contact for your frontline workforce. Beekeeper’s mobile platform brings communications and tools into one place to improve productivity, safety, and agility. Daniel is passionate about helping businesses operate more efficiently. He has a background in applied mathematics and more than eight years of experience in sales and customer success.