Lou Kren Lou Kren
Senior Editor

Meeting Multigenerational-Workforce Challenges via Technology

April 29, 2019

According to a 2018 U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) survey, the average age of American engineers falls in the lower-40s range, with machine operators averaging roughly a year or two older. But recent visits to additive manufacturing (AM) events such as the Additive Mfg. Users Group (AMUG) conference, as well as those related to metal forming and fabricating, indicate a significant shift toward a younger workforce. Employees in their 20s and 30s, and those expected to fill employee rolls as older workers retire, are much on the minds of software and equipment providers.

To attract and retain this newer workforce, employers across all manufacturing sectors seek not only curb appeal but much more. The Holy Grail: exciting, leading-edge technologies that not only enhance the image of manufacturing, but deliver the means for manufacturers to excel. IoT and Industry 4.0 products and services spreading across manufacturing, and the constant introduction of innovative AM technologies, not only offer the means to excel, but carry features specifically designed to appeal to, and benefit from the strengths of, younger workers. At the same time, these technologies enhance the benefits and capabilities brought by more experienced employees. That’s important, as DoL estimates that 22 percent of Americans of retirement age will still be working in 2020, indicating an experienced workforce planning to stay on the job longer.

The most obvious examples of user-friendly technology can be found in access devices, device displays, software navigation, control panels and human-machine interfaces (HMIs). Designers incorporate all manner of user-friendly features that anyone familiar with a smartphone readily can employ. These technologies benefit the entire workforce, young and old—part of the technology trend known as ‘multigenerational.’

The AMUG conference, for example, offered much to attract and retain AM talent across all levels, with a host of software introductions designed to ease and optimize some or all design, print, post-process and quality-control operations. Many employ modernized user interfaces and easier access to data, as well as file and data import and export. New machines, new print technologies, new materials, new applications and more promise excitement for newer or established employees. Get a glimpse in the article beginning on page 24.

The ‘mutigenerational’ term was used in abundance at Epicor Insights 2019, a recent conference I attended for users of Epicor’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and related products. The company stressed its work in developing products and adapting current offerings to serve the multigenerational workforce, including the introduction of Eva (Epicor Virtual Agent). Eva, a virtual assistant accessible from mobile devices, employs artificial intelligence to execute tasks and recommend, predict and adjust actions within set parameters...and learn and adapt as she goes. Think of Alexa on steroids, able to assist employees of any age in navigating ERP systems and making better use of data and analyses.

As much as newer, easier-to-use technology helps—and it does!—attracting and retaining younger workers, while benefitting from the knowledge and experience of older employees and keeping them engaged, is no simple feat. It demands increased skill and perception from management.

"There are more generations in the workforce than ever before, which has resulted in a greater variety of expectations around workplace communication,” Jim Link, chief human resources officer for Randstad North America, recently told Industry Week magazine, referencing a 2018 workforce poll exploring generational issues in the workplace. “People in different stages of their lives and careers are also motivated in different ways, and managers must work to tailor feedback to help individuals maximize their potential."

Beyond motivation, management must consider how to bridge generational communication issues. Mentoring programs and teams that span the employee age range have proven helpful here. All in all, a multigenerational workforce brings challenges, and it’s good to see that these are being addressed.

Industry-Related Terms: Forming
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms



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