The Future of Frontline Manufacturing

Sep 22, 2022 12:24:00 PM . Julia Walsh

What should leaders do today to make their organizations and workforces future-ready?

In a report, PwC addressed these questions about the future of work and examined the perspectives of the global workforce and its leaders. Today, we will examine PwC’s views with the added perspective of the digitization initiatives that need to be undertaken now to create a future-ready frontline workforce.

In its report, PwC presents four very distinct models for the year 2030 that explain possible future scenarios as shaped by current competing forces. Figure 1, above, depicts these future “worlds of work,” and PwC categorizes them based on the level of fragmentation or integration against collectivism or individualism that may exist in the world come 2030.

The four possible models, while very different, share the underlying assumption that technology, especially digital, will play an enhanced role in the future of work. The role of digitization, AI, and automation, while different in each scenario, is significant.

Understanding the Future Worlds:

A PwC survey of ten thousand workers from across the world was used to create the future-world models. Data from the survey was used to show the forces that might dominate each worldview. Let’s explore these worlds, and the role of technology in each, a little more closely.

The Red World- 60% of survey respondents felt that few people will have stable long-term employment in the future. This forms the premise of the red world, a world that is driven by small enterprises and prioritizes innovation and agility. In this model, technology dominates the market and collaboration across regulatory and geographic products leads to lightning-fast product rollout.  

In the red world, digital platforms allow smaller entrepreneurs to hire workers with requisite skills. Bigger players create internal marketplaces that reward workers for enhanced skills and innovative approaches to work and products (design, manufacturing, and operations). Workers in this world are categorized based on their block of skills, their experience, and their networks. The workforce focus is on developing and marketing skills and the ability to create IP, which can benefit businesses.  

The Blue World- 70% of survey respondents would consider using treatments to enhance their brains and bodies if they improved future employment prospects. This idea forms the basis of the blue world, where large corporate empires dominate and human skills are vastly augmented by technology, medication, and implants.  

In this corporate-dominated world, workers have been imparted superhuman abilities through technology. Their performance is further elevated through analytics, and talent drives the hiring practices of the large corporations controlling the world. Workers experience a higher pressure to perform in this model and are constantly looking to acquire leading-edge skills to remain relevant and employable. Data drives workforce performance measurement and beyond, tapping into personal well-being and medical conditions. Workers constantly endeavor to be their best and perform their best to retain work and grow in this environment.

The Green World- 23% of survey respondents said that doing a job that makes a difference is most important to their careers. In this model, corporations view it as their responsibility to develop their employees and support their local communities. Social conscience, environmental responsibility, and human rights drive business decisions in this world. Automation and digital technology take center stage in improving environmental conditions through work modification.  

The workforce in this world model is subject to high ethical and social standards, with a keen focus on their ability to use technology to reduce stress on vital resources. The whole focus of business and therefore work is on making the world a better place, and technology is used to further the green agenda.

The Yellow World- 25% of survey respondents said that their ideal employer is an organization with values that match their own. This force shapes the yellow world of 2030, where fairness in the distribution of wealth, resources, and privilege is the main focus for corporations and the workforce. Companies endeavor to create good jobs and decent work, awarding workers with autonomy, flexibility, and fulfillment.

Technology enables market growth in the yellow world by reducing barriers to entry, and automation and AI are only used to perform tasks not possible for humans. Therefore, in this world hyper-automation is not a reality, automation is restrained, and the use of digital technology for organic improvements and fueling innovations is the norm. In this world model, workers align themselves based on common interests, causes, and skills, forming guilds that support, train, and connect individual workers.

Webalo’s Views on Competing World Models- The Webalo leadership team opines that instead of four extreme realities, the world and future of work might evolve to be a hybrid of the models presented. Competing forces might shape the future of work to be somewhere in the middle of these worldviews. Clearly, environmental consciousness is on the rise, and consumers are more discerning about the impact of their behavior on the environment. Corporations are prioritizing their workforces and social responsibilities globally, even though making larger profits still remains the biggest deliverable of most value chains.  

Workers and employers have become more aware of the skill gap that exists and are trying their best to acquire new skills and reskill the existing workforce respectively.  Digital technology remains important to all world models, and many enterprises require a central hub for workforce data such as the Workforce Intelligence Centers

In our view, automation is something that augments and enhances human ability and should therefore grow organically to best support workers. For AI to even begin to work, leaders of manufacturing organizations need to look at how siloed their data is today and employ digital platforms to enable coherent data collection as the first stepping stone toward AI, ML, and advanced analytics.

Irrespective of the world that manifests in 2030, leaders and workers alike must realize that digital transformation as it is happening today will shape the future. Adopting the right technology today can future-proof an enterprise and help gain competitive advantages. Now, let’s look at the key takeaways from the PwC report and add our digital perspective.  

Key Messages for Leaders from the PwC Report:

Act Now- PwC encourages leaders to act now by taking the right steps toward building a better future. From a manufacturing frontline perspective, this means starting with the digitization of workflows and forms and moving all the way to an integrated, digitally enabled enterprise. The key is to embark on the journey now.

No Regrets or Bets- Leaders need to confront the future of work by looking at their status quos and making sound technology decisions. They need to plan for a dynamic future and make no-regret decisions. This would entail understanding where they currently stand from a digital technology standpoint and making bets on platforms that will empower their biggest resource: their workforces.

Make a Bigger Leap- PwC encourages leaders to take bigger leaps and make bolder technology decisions. This might mean moving away from a typical time-consuming, use case-based technology adoption toward a lighthouse approach, where a platform or solution is deployed across an enterprise to deliver better and faster results. Embarking on the digital journey with the right partner, like Webalo, can make all the difference for manufacturers when transforming the frontline, especially manufacturers with complex value chains and multiple operational plants.

Own the Automation Debate- Understanding the way AI and automation will shape the future is necessary for leaders and should not be left for IT and HR functions to figure out. Manufacturing leaders need to take stock of their entire value generation mechanisms and take steps to augment workers in a way that helps them make better decisions faster. Automating redundant activities and leveraging process data through mobile-enabled digital platforms should be the starting point for manufacturing enterprises. 

People, Not Jobs- Organizations need to focus on their people and help them adapt to the current and future role of technology in the workplace. Workforce digitization platforms are the best way for companies to help their workforces become more agile and gain the digital skills needed for future hybrid jobs. With the right technology, workers will gain more autonomy, learn faster, be empowered, and become more future-ready through the use of mobile-based and fully configurable apps. Build a Clear Narrative- 37% of surveyed workers were worried about automation affecting their jobs. Therefore, it is a leadership imperative to address these concerns and build a clear vision of the future. Webalo experts believe that technology must be used to improve work, and leaders should openly discuss transformed roles and the hybrid work structures of the future with their current workforces. Automation will certainly change work. However, if digital platforms are employed and used to their full potential by companies and workers, the workforce of the future will be more intelligent, more efficient, and more empowered than the workforce of today!