Many of consulting firm RSM US’s manufacturing clients believe that developing engaging employee experiences will not create or add value to their organisation. However, warns David McLaughlin, principal Dynamics 365 industrials leader at RSM US, this common misconception could have a detrimental impact on the overall success of their businesses.
“Concerns about issues such as the pace of technological change, safety, the environment, limited career advancement opportunities and the difficulty of achieving a sustainable work-life balance can all cause anxiety and stress for the manufacturing workforce,” he says. “Employees can also become frustrated when their needs aren’t being met, or when they have to deal with inefficient processes. Consequently, employees are happier when they are provided with tools that make them more productive. This translates into numerous other benefits, including higher quality work, greater contributions to innovation and process improvement inputs, and better retention rates, all of which can lead to reduced operating costs.”
Empowering the workforce with the right tools also makes it easier to attract and retain talent.
“Skilled employees can be hard to come by, and once you invest in training your people, you don’t want to lose them; it costs real money to replace them and to make new recruits productive,” says Rebeca Boettcher, senior associate for Dynamics 365 at RSM US. “To create an engaging culture, companies sometimes need to make targeted investments and connect with employees in a way they are comfortable with.”
Manufacturing firms must consider multiple factors to ensure they can develop effective employee engagement strategies, including the age and existing skills of their staff.
“While traditional methods can sometimes be most appropriate for driving engagement, digital technologies such as mobile applications are often the best tools for achieving this goal,” says Boettcher. “The advantage of using technology is that employees can interact and communicate in real time. Content – such as company news, schedules, staff absences, training, and more – can also be delivered quickly and effectively. Plus, organisations can use chatbots and other AI-powered tools to make it easier for employees to find the information they’re looking for.”
According to McLaughlin, collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and SharePoint are now a necessity for every manufacturing organisation, particularly those operating in multiple locations.
“Teams transforms the way people communicate and engage with each other, and it can create a sense of community,” he explains. “In addition to providing threaded posts, chat, conference calling and document collaboration features, Teams enables tighter integration of information across those channels. It can also serve as the framework to expose other Microsoft applications like Outlook, numerous planning and project management software (including Microsoft Planner and Microsoft DevOps), and several manufacturing-specific applications.”
The Microsoft Power Platform suite is another useful tool. “Power Apps is designed for ‘citizen’ developers and can be exposed or accessed within Teams, while Power Automate enables automated workflows across multiple data sources and applications,” says McLaughlin. “Power Pages provides a framework for building collaboration portals, and Power Virtual Agents allows for the introduction of AI and bots across the Power Platform suite.”
RSM US helps manufacturing clients to maximise the value of the Microsoft technology stack.
“We’re a premier Microsoft partner certified in all six Microsoft cloud areas, which include business applications, data and AI, digital and app innovation, infrastructure, modern work and security,” says Boettcher. “Beyond helping clients to design solutions using the Microsoft building blocks, we also develop industry-specific solutions that fill the gaps between what comes out of the box and what our clients need for their business to thrive.”
While technology is a critical component in any employee engagement strategy, manufacturing organisations must also invest to upskill or reskill workers to ensure they can optimise the new tools and platforms.
“Increasingly, manufacturers need employees who can apply technology to solve common business challenges,” says Boettcher. “Typically, this starts with conversations around data and processes, so it’s critical to ensure that they have digital skills and training programmes in place. For example, workers must be empowered with essential skills like data analysis, cybersecurity awareness and the ability to use typical collaboration tools, such as SharePoint and Teams.”
RSM US offers several services to enable manufacturing clients to develop a culture that facilitates and supports continuous learning and development.
“Often undervalued, change management is key to successful digital transformation,” says McLaughlin. “RSM US offers services to support this transition to ensure our clients get maximum value out of their investment. Our Technology Academy team can also support clients with continuous training and onboarding new employees. We help with in-person training, and we’ve also cultivated learning plans centred on Microsoft technologies – for example we have a host of courses on Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance & Supply Chain. We’ve also helped design and author learning content for Microsoft.
“All of this is key to helping manufacturers create an engaged, skilled and productive workforce that is well-equipped for the digital workplace of the future.”
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription