The power and motivation of your workforce can be a tremendous competitive advantage and ensure the lasting viability of the business. You need to prepare the ground by giving people the digital tools and data resources they expect to thrive in your organization. Time is of the essence because generational change and technological innovation can’t be made to wait.
When you try to understand how generational change might impact the way we do business and use technology, you will find an abundance of content from technology vendors and industry observers. That promote certain technical products and features by claiming that they meet the preferences of millennial users. It can be difficult to identify real trends among the generalizations about generations. Fears and resentments expressed in published comments don’t help, either. Some writers claim that millennials are “invading” workplaces and threatening companies, that the “digital divide” between people of varying ages is disrupting businesses, or that—depending on author attitudes—either younger or older employees are asking their organizations for too much technological functionality and workplace convenience.
With earplugs securely fastened to keep out the tense rhetoric, we can dig a little deeper.
Confluence of demographical and technological trends
For one thing, generational change is real. The so-called baby boomer generation was indeed quite large. In 2016, close to 74 million of those born between 1946 and 1964 were still alive. Many of them began retiring several years ago at a rate of roughly 10,000 individuals per day. Currently, nearly half of the boomers are already in retirement (which for some of them means working relatively entry-level jobs that are far removed from their former careers). Most of the remainder will retire shortly. If nothing else, that means workplaces will look and feel different. The millennials—those born between 1982 and 2000—number approximately 83 million people. Many of them today are in their early to middle careers, gaining in professional standing and organizational influence.
Coinciding with generational change is a kind of golden age for technology. Digital resources and tools are pervasive in almost any area of life in the world’s most developed societies. At work or in our personal pursuits, never before were we able to accomplish so much with relatively accessible means.
To a degree, technology can be smoothing social differences of wealth and class. As consumers of news, entertainment, and special-purpose apps, almost all of us are used to a level of usability and performance of software and hardware that would have seemed outrageous twenty or thirty years ago. At work, even entry-level workers who are not in managerial roles will expect a minimum of digital enablement. Even if they don’t require software and devices to perform their jobs, they and their employers may still benefit from software tools that allow them, for example, to report their hours or manage their employee benefits, using their personal smartphones or other devices.
Generational change in manufacturing
In some industries, generational and technical changes have become challenging for companies that need to chart their strategy, innovation, and investment for the coming years. In manufacturing alone, according to many estimates, between two and three million positions will have to be filled as employees retire. Many companies are losing experts who were instrumental in designing the processes and systems that made them successful.
The number of open positions expected in the manufacturing industry fluctuates substantially, depending on the projections which are considered in the analysis of labor trends. Some jobs and functions may no longer be performed by humans, but by robotic production and distribution equipment. Sensors and other data sources connected to the internet of things (IoT) could absorb much manual data-gathering and observation by workers. IoT data could flow into data lakes in the cloud and be subject to advanced analytics, which itself might be highly automated, overcoming human limitations related to fatigue and error. ERP and other business-critical software systems will integrate more and more with machine learning and automation tools that will eliminate much human drudgery; changing the workplace may be more radically than generational turnover will.
New employees expect technological excellence
Many of the retiring baby boomers adopted digital technology first in the workplace, and by and by, it seeped into their personal lives. In contrast, large numbers of millennials grew up as digital natives, surrounded by app-enabled devices and activities. At an earlier stage of business software, usability was extremely poor compared to what it is today. Workers needed to be patient and accepting of stolid, slow functionality, and primitive interfaces with basic green screens. When these systems still persist in today’s work environments, they often meet a highly specialized need—although there may also be misconceptions about modern technology—or reflect the prevalent attitudes in organizations that undervalue certain workers.
The people interviewing for manufacturing positions today may well have been educated in school districts where every student was given a tablet or notebook computer to do homework, collaborate with peers, interact with teachers, and access resources in the digital universe. They are likely users of smartphones who manage many areas of their lives, including banking, healthcare, and travel, through intuitive, pleasing apps. They won’t tolerate hard-to-use, slow, or unreliable workplace technology that stands in the way of their professional goals or success in a given position.
Manufacturing may be more challenged by the enormity of technical and generational change than other industries. Still, there are many companies for which employee empowerment through technology can make the difference between a motivated, productive, collaborative workforce and a population of unhappy individuals who will move on as soon as they find a better opportunity. Multiple surveys tell us that tech-savvy millennials know how to find the companies that prize digital innovation and enablement and are not reluctant to leave or avoid those that don’t.
Delivering employee empowerment
Organizational and individual interests meet when employees prefer to hire on and grow with successful, competitive, viable, and innovative companies that pursue and achieve ambitious goals. For manufacturers and many other businesses, that means they need to offer their job candidates and employees an environment where they can take the initiative and get things done, instead of simply refreshing the status quo of the business day after day. Practically, and at a basic level, that means:
- Make ERP and business productivity software available on people’s mobile devices, so they don’t have to restrict their effectiveness to limited times and locations;
- Integrate ERP and other data sources and connect them with reporting and analytical tools so employees can make well-substantiated decisions without navigating multiple resources; and
- Offer software tools that can be mastered quickly, and which encourage employees’ productivity and accomplishment.
The digital infrastructure companies today can build on cloud platforms make it comparatively easy to deliver data and software capabilities whenever and wherever people need them, reliably and securely. They also offer ways to document and share the insights of skilled workers who have spent many years operating sophisticated machinery or production facilities.
Using ERP and analytics to win and retain customers as well as employees
If your company competes for talent as well as customers and revenue, workforce planning and development are business-critical activities. If you can garner the attention of talented people with the education and experience that fit your company, invite them to stake their fortunes to yours, and help them to a satisfying career, you may well have gained an edge over your competitors. Accomplishing success in employee recruitment and retainment can be as crucial as understanding emerging customer needs early on, positioning products and services to satisfy them before the competitors do. Modern ERP in the cloud, together with advanced business intelligence and analytics tools, can help you achieve both.
At Sikich, baby boomers, millennials, and others collaborate on teams and share expertise to benefit our clients. We know how tough it can be to identify and hire great talent, but we also offer opportunities for professional growth and accomplishment that keep people engaged and thriving. At any stage in the life of your business, we can help you use the best of ERP and modern technology to best win and serve customers and recruit and empower employees. When technical, industry, and market change threatens to disrupt your business, we know how to deploy technology and fine tune processes to keep your strategy on course.
You can call on Sikich when it’s time to deploy your first ERP solution, rush to ERP rescue and recovery on projects that aren’t going well, perform integrations and data migrations, and manage your technology environment to support your goals. Start by getting in touch with our Sikich ERP experts.