I recently had the opportunity to tour two manufacturing plants back-to-back. They both made the same products, they were both located in the same general vicinity, and the work itself was largely the same across both plants. The only difference? One had been using the same machines since the company’s inception, and the other had been upgraded to brand-new manufacturing technology within the past two years. My mission was to determine if this upgrade at one plant would warrant an upgrade in their manufacturing hiring process as well. In other words, how would this new technology affect our definition of a “qualified” applicant? Would employees need markedly different skills or abilities in order to be successful at a cutting-edge manufacturing plant?
The answer: yes and no.
After many rounds of observations, job shadowing, focus groups, and interviews, I was surprised by the differences that emerged between the two plants. For the most part, the competencies required for success on the job were similar regardless of the manufacturing technology upgrades:
Safety. No matter how many robots you work with, safety will always be a top requirement when working in manufacturing. The range of safety-related activities may shift depending on the available technology, but the core behaviors of safety – being aware of your surroundings, following rules, staying in control, and exhibiting caution – will remain important in either environment.
Attention to Detail. I expected this competency to be slightly less critical in the upgraded plant, since newer machinery runs automatic quality control checks. However, after observing the actual process, I realized that the machines offer an extra layer of quality focus but they don’t replace the employees’ responsibility. After all, employees have to set the quality control parameters for their machines, as well as monitor them constantly to ensure continued accuracy. Depending on the product, employees at any plant will also need to perform manual quality checks off the line.
Problem Solving. Similar to safety, all roles in manufacturing will continue to require strong problem solving. It doesn’t matter if it’s an old broken-down manipulator or a malfunctioning 3D printer: your plant needs people who can think critically and act fast to resolve a problem. Bonus points if your problem solvers are also strong in the teamwork department—these employees will not only help to resolve issues, but will be more likely to teach others how to be self-sufficient in the face of future problems, too.
While the similarities were strong, both plants did have their differences. While both of the following competencies were mentioned as important for success at either plant, they were mentioned at the upgraded plant with more consistency and a stronger emphasis.
Attitude. The upgraded plant mentioned that having a positive attitude stood out to them as important for successful employees who are working with new technology. This was rolled into many factors: positive people tended to encourage the rest of the team to give the new machines a chance, to be open to learning, and to focus on the benefits that the technology would bring to both their team and the customer. Workers at the upgraded plant also discussed the negative influence of peers who did not have a positive attitude: those employees were reluctant to learn new processes, and routinely complained to others about the changing expectations of the job. This had a negative effect on the team’s interest or willingness to adapt.Related: How to Find Manufacturing Employees with Strong Work Ethic
Motivational Fit. Okay, so the workers didn’t use that exact phrase. But “motivational fit” is a term we use here at Select International, and it gets at the core of the concepts that were consistently mentioned at the upgraded plant: new hires need to be motivated to work with new technology. This is perhaps the key difference in plants that are upgrading and investing in cutting-edge machinery: manufacturing now has the chance to draw in younger workers who have an interest in continuous improvement, innovation, and modern advancement.
At the end of the day, someone who would have been successful in manufacturing 20 years ago will likely still be successful working in a modern-day plant. However, it’s important to remember that certain traits like attitude and fit can make a key difference in whether or not that employee will thrive.