“What gives you heartburn?” was one of the questions for the panel at the IBAW’s Manufacturing Summit. On this panel was Joel Quadracci, CEO, Quad Graphics; Chad Severson, President, InSinkerator; and, Jim Kass, VP, Allen Edmonds. They all quickly identified the shortage of workers. To be fair, Jim Kass first grinned and answered “…bad shoes”, but soon joined in the “We need people!” mantra. These leaders simply echoed what most of us already know. There is a shortage of good workers in nearly every type of business.
I must admit that while I think Foxconn is a great thing for Wisconsin, one of my first thoughts after hearing the news was this very issue. How will they find enough people to do the work? The shortage does not seem to be just the trades. I hear about a lack of project managers in construction, a lack of accounting people, a lack of customer service people and more. Even here at CTaccess, we need more good technical people! [Shameless Plug Inserted Here] Please introduce us to anyone you know who is sharp at IT Networking whether they are looking or not!
The solution is not an easy or quick one. There is talk of more community college programming, internships, high school mentoring programs and more. As companies, we try to make our compensation and benefits package better. We try to make ourselves an attractive place to work, put coaching programs in place, and try to meet the needs of the today’s in-demand worker.
While I know I don’t have all the answers, one of the things I do think we as leaders of organizations often overlook is technology. Yes, you might have guessed that would be the answer from this technology guy. But, let’s take a closer look at some critical ways technology can help us with the employee gap.
1. Improving Technology Alignment – I recently got new tires on the car my wife drives every day, and we all use on the weekends. We got the whole package, new tires, mounting, balancing, and alignment. What we discovered after having this done was that our car was refreshingly quiet. We didn’t even realize it was noisy, until it wasn’t anymore.
This often happens with technology if a strong discipline is not applied to keeping it aligned. Technology gets old and stale. We end up using an ERP system that is 4 versions old and is no longer on-point for our business. Desktop equipment ages and slows people down. We have more technology failures than ever before. The general frustration index of our team goes up. Without even trying, our technology becomes a roadblock rather than a productivity generator, and sometimes we think this is just how technology is.
Getting your IT re-aligned is not quite as immediate as getting new tires for your car. It takes time and discipline and training. The good news is that as things improve people come around. Technology that once contributed to frustration or even to people leaving can begin again to be a productivity generator and actually promote your team’s effectiveness.
2. Creating Technology Attraction – An unintended consequence of having a progressive stance about technology is that it is attractive. Talented forward-looking people want to work for companies that are on top of their game with technology.
What is your technology attraction level? Would you highlight what you are doing with technology to a prospective hire that you are trying to attract? Would your technology in the office be considered as progressive as that new million-dollar machine out on the floor? Today’s workforce is quickly becoming a Millennial workforce, who expects software and day-to-day operation to be technology integrated in a way that is as smooth as ordering from Amazon or calling an Uber.
While technology attraction is for most companies not the goal, it is a great byproduct of a well-executed technology management plan. Reaching technology attraction is a result of some hard work. The first part of this process is getting your basic systems in a quiet state. Quieting down or stabilizing your systems, is a process, particularly after significant upgrades or long periods where a strong management plan was not in place. Once the basics are quiet, it becomes much easier to focus on automating, improving and innovating, which is what creates technology that is attractive to prospective employees and even customers.
3. Automating The Office – We’ve all seen the sprawl of spreadsheets, checklists, and follow-up reminders that require lots of updating and managing to track our work. Sometimes an update to our core line-of-business software or some other departmental software is needed to solve this problem, but in many cases, particularly at a certain growth level, more is needed.
The application of technology to automate the manual flow of information and approvals can make a huge difference and reduce the need to hire as business grows. The temptation is to try to extend our current process or software to handle this, when in fact the best solution, and one that can reduce the need for FTEs is to implement a whole additional tool set.
ECM/BPM software is designed specifically for automation. It engages with the software we use now and makes it perform better. It tracks and handles the flow of a business process better than individuals can with less headache and in less time. It creates transparency to know where things are slowing down and where things are flowing well. It acts as middleware to tie systems together in one continuous flow. A well-designed ECM solution reduces the amount of people time to process and order, do contract management, onboard and employee, provide customer service, and much more. It leverages the time and talent of our people to make them more effective and allow them to focus on the right things.
The shortage of workers is real and there seems to be no quick fix. Viewing technology as a way to help address part of this shortage has a significant impact. Our approach to technology can help attract and even retain people. Whether people working on the shop floor or in the office, people want to work with the latest tools. And, implementing automation in the office environment can both reduce our need to hire and focus the day-to-day work of those on our team off the mundane and on decision making or customer facing tasks.