How’s hiring going for your business? If you’re struggling to find workers to fill open jobs or support your growth plans, you’re not alone. Right now, there are close to 500,000 vacant jobs in the industry, according to the National Association of Manufacturers. NAM says by 2028, manufacturers in the U.S. will need workers for 4.6 million jobs.
Finding that many workers when unemployment is at historic lows is a challenge for any industry. And there are trends that make the challenge even tougher for manufacturers. However, IoT systems can help companies thrive despite the worker shortage, and IoT technology can help generate more interest from job seekers.
Let’s look at some labor shortage problems and IoT solutions.
Problem: Manufacturing’s workforce is aging—and retiring
More than a third of the industry’s workers are age 55 and older. They may have years or decades of on-the-job knowledge that helps factories run more efficiently. What happens to that knowledge when they become part of the “retirement onslaught” in manufacturing? What happens to productivity and quality after they leave?
Some experiential knowledge can be saved and shared in writing. But some of the most valuable expertise can’t be shared that way because it’s difficult or impossible to explain in words.
For example, people who’ve worked with the same piece of equipment on a production line for 20 years may know the machine so well that they can spot developing problems by listening for subtle changes in the sound the motor makes. This insight can prevent unplanned downtime, and in an ideal world, experienced workers would have had junior workers shadowing them to pick up this knowledge through experience. Now, though, many manufacturers don’t have the luxury of a large enough staff to let newer workers shadow veterans.
The IoT solution is to attach wireless vibration sensors to the equipment that can collect real time data and display it on a dashboard that workers can see. Then experienced workers can correlate their sensory knowledge with sensor data graphs and charts. They can show new workers what the dashboard will display when the equipment needs service.
This can help prevent a spike in unplanned downtime as more experienced workers retire, and it helps newer workers build their skills faster so they can work more efficiently.
Problem: Young workers aren’t considering manufacturing careers
While retiring workers are exiting the manufacturing pipeline, fewer new people are entering it. That’s in part because manufacturing has what NAM calls a “massive perception problem” among students, their parents and younger workers.
Only half of parents have a positive impression of careers in the industry, NAM says. That’s due in part to concerns about offshoring and the fear that automation will replace those jobs. Students and young workers, meanwhile, aren’t aware that many manufacturing jobs
- Use technology to solve real-world problems.
- Pay above the national median salary.
- Don’t require a college degree and the debt that comes with it.
The IoT solution to this problem is to show how your business uses IoT tools for the kinds of things that young job seekers want: meaningful work that gives them the opportunity to solve real problems.
For example, an agricultural equipment manufacturer that builds smart sensors into its equipment can help farmers maximize their crop yields to feed a growing planet. A factory that uses remote wireless sensors for facility monitoring can reduce its energy use and carbon footprint by implementing smart lighting and temperature controls. Also, IoT programs are a natural fit for workers who want careers in information technology or data analytics.
Manufacturers who want to get more young workers and recent graduates into the pipeline can emphasize the role of the IoT in their employer branding.
Problem: You need to do more with fewer people
To stay competitive, companies must get more efficient and productive with the workers they have. Industrial wireless sensors and advanced analytics make this possible.
For example, real-time temperature monitoring of equipment and storage areas eliminates the need for employees to spend hours each day walking the plant to record readings and then enter them manually. With an IoT solution in place, those workers can turn to higher-value tasks. The real-time data reported by this kind of sensor network can reduce unplanned downtime and product damage, so employees can spend less time reacting to problems and more time on their primary tasks.
The IoT can also make workers in the field more efficient and reduce the number of service calls they must make. For example, Anderson America added vibration sensors to the industrial routers it makes to give its customer service teams access to operational health data. When a customer calls with a problem, CSRs can see if the equipment needs repair or if there are operating adjustments the customer can make.
Honeywell Aerospace includes wireless sensor systems in its avionics equipment, so its field technicians have access to real-time and historical operation data during service calls. This saves time looking up data so technicians can solve problems faster and move on to the next call.