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3 key talent strategies for smart manufacturers

3 key talent strategies for smart manufacturers

With digital transformation gaining an even deeper foothold in the manufacturing environment, leaders must now face a twofold challenge: developing an understanding of where and how technology can enhance processes, and cultivating a workforce that has the capability to manage this new technology. In the next decade, organisations will need to adopt a new talent paradigm, one that hinges on three key talent strategies that will unlock human potential in the digital age.

Industry 4.0 is rapidly changing all aspects of production – machine learning and autonomous robots are revolutionising the shop floor, with far-reaching implications for HR departments and the labour force. New talent strategies will have to harmonise man and machine, ensuring that existing employees are appropriately upskilled, and that new positions are created for production workers who can operate complex machinery and use automation tools for quick decision-making.

In an era of talent shortfalls and low employee engagement, this appears to be a tall order. A recent Gallup poll found that 85% of employees are either unengaged or actively disengaged at work. And manufacturing workers are less engaged than the overall workforce: in the U.S., for example, just 33% of all workers are engaged, but the manufacturing sector reflects weaker engagement, at 25%.

So how will organisations battle the odds and develop a workforce that can harness the benefits of complex technology while allowing space for innovation and agility? The answer is a three-pronged approach to talent nurturing and acquisition that encompasses all facets of the organisation to leverage combined competitive advantage.

Talent strategy one: Lead an automation strategy across the entire organisation

Defining your automation strategy is just as critical as setting out an overarching organisational strategy. You need to pinpoint areas where automation would drive the business forward and identify skills and personnel that could bring this vision to life. This kind of critical thinking and assessment should not be the sole mandate of HR or IT – the approach should be integrated as talent and digitisation strategies need to contribute to the manufacturing entity’s ultimate purpose.

For example, a manufacturer that prizes innovation and agility may calibrate its talent strategy towards specialised digital design skills and risk-tolerant entrepreneurial managers.

Talent strategy two: Blueprint an Industry 4.0 talent ecosystem

The key here is to think ‘boundaryless’. Digitisation removes or alters traditional concepts of hierarchical, geographical and functional structures, as well as the sharing of information. This increased flexibility and integration allows boundaryless organisations to effectively navigate the changing business terrain and capitalise on new markets, new opportunities and new technologies.

talent strategiesThe concept of a boundaryless organisation has broader implications for team architecture and dynamics: consider cross-functional networked teams that can drive continuous learning with collective expertise; parallel teams that can broaden perspectives to solve problems, and zero infrastructure cost virtual teams that can be employed to initiate new product development (NPD).

Talent strategy three: Invest, monitor, reiterate. Then re-invest.

Manufacturers need to invest, now, for the decade ahead. The appropriate channels will vary from company to company, but should include in-house upskilling programmes, partnering with academic institutions, apprenticeship initiatives, and recruitment and retention programmes.

Upskilling employees not only helps bolster employee engagement and retention rates, it also ensures organisations have an agile workforce that can deftly handle the many challenges faced by a digital business.

In the final analysis, smart manufacturing will always have a role for smart people. For organisations to build and sustain their competitive advantage, they need to adopt a holistic approach to talent retention and acquisition that successfully propels their employees into a new era of work.

For a deeper insight into the three talent strategy pillars and the challenges faced by manufacturers in the digital age, read the article The road to the 2030 manufacturing workplace: what Industry 4.0 means for talent strategies.


The TRACC framework helps organisations build standardised and integrated good practice and performance capacity across their Plan, Source, Make and Deliver functions. Simultaneously it accelerates their collaboration and alignment capacity to build world class end-to-end value chains, enabling the organisation itself to become the ultimate source of sustainable competitive advantage.
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