Humans and Computers: Working Together to Build an Effective Workforce

Across the United States, we continue to experience relatively low unemployment rates overall. Job growth is strong in many industries, including manufacturing. Because the gap between available and needed skills is a persistent issue that poses a threat to the manufacturing industry, manufacturers have made it a priority to address the skills gap and find solutions to solve it. As a result, manufacturers have turned not only to people-based solutions, but to technology and software-based solutions as well.

Members of Plumbing Manufacturers International (PMI) understand that the strength of our industry lies within the hands and brains of the people on our production floors; we need critical thinkers and problem solvers more than ever before. But the world is much more fast-paced today, with aggregate human knowledge doubling every 13 months. Computerized solutions are required to keep pace.

Viega takes steps toward reaching efficiency and labor force goals

For example, PMI member Viega was featured in the Adobe Blog for the plumbing manufacturer’s efforts to go paperless. The article explains how Viega uses Adobe Acrobat Pro DC in its offices and manufacturing plants to order supplies, fill out government forms, produce sales collateral, and more. Viega employees on the go, including the company’s sales reps, can use the Adobe suite of products to customize presentations for customers, keeping the production of digital documents efficient and accelerating work flow and business growth.

In addition, Viega has stepped up its training programs for two reasons – one, to help contractors find ways to be faster and more profitable in the field, and two, to grow the labor force of the future, according to a Viega blog article. A reduction in high school shop classes and vocational training over the years means that kids aren’t getting exposure to trade skills. The outreach that Viega training provides to students will help to feed the workforce and prevent labor shortages.

Viega’s training includes design and software instruction, as well as plumbing and pipefitting skills training. Attendees can see products installed in logical applications and browse videos and functioning displays in the company’s Interactive Learning Center.

Wisconsin schools use software to develop tomorrow’s workforce

As reported by The Chippewa Herald of Wisconsin, a new and powerful program called Inspire Connections helps employers in west central Wisconsin to develop tomorrow’s workforce. The program was seeded at the state level as part of a Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction mandate that all middle and high school students participate in academic and career planning beginning in 2018-2019. The department obtained a software license for Career Cruising for use by all schools. This software is a potentially life-changing career program that engages and connects local employers with teachers, students and their parents by posting local career opportunities and preparing students for them through company profiles, online career coaching and experiential learning activities.

A similar software has been made available nationwide. Released as Xello, this software converts what interests kids into possible careers. The platform provides students an opportunity to explore their career interests and related companies, and then work with those companies to arrange career-based learning experiences.

In my high school days, we had similar online tools, except they were built to help us explore four-year university admittance standards or which degree we’d potentially like to pursue. We were made to start using this program as freshmen, and I can tell you I had absolutely no idea what program I wanted to pursue for the rest of my professional life, let alone which university was the best fit for me to do so. Platforms such as Career Cruising and Xello provide students a less intimidating and “contractual” opportunity explore their career interests and related companies right off the bat. As we all know, four-year universities are not every student’s cup of tea.

Facilities invest in job-enhancing software

American worldwide manufacturer Cree is capitalizing on its ability to expand on its technical expertise. As reported by WRAL TechWire, the company announced its investment of $1 billion on its Durham, N.C., facilities and related expansion projects. What gives this particular expansion an edge, however, is that it will create many high-tech job opportunities and will serve as an advanced manufacturing workforce development initiative.

Over the next five years, Cree will place most of its resources into growing its Wolfspeed silicon carbide and its silicon carbide chip business. More importantly, the company plans to partner with state and local community and four-year colleges to develop training programs to prepare its workforce for the long-term, high-quality employment and growth opportunities that the new facilities will present. With this expensive technological investment, the world of automotive manufacturing will be leveraging the benefits of silicon carbide to push innovation.

What the future holds for job growth

New regulations and the possibility of change in the form of intense foreign competition and more expensive materials will always remain possibilities. Ensuring a strong culture of workforce development, continuous improvement, and smart business practices are just a few of the things we can control to continuously position ourselves in a place of acceleration.

Can we rely solely on human competency and knowledge to feed such a fast-growing industry? I doubt it; the assistance of computers and artificial intelligence will be necessary. However, we can be assured that a strong manufacturing industry will never be just about machines or processes; it will be always be in large measure about empowering and connecting with people.