Our team talks around the proverbial watercooler often about the challenges facing American manufacturing and distribution. One topic that keeps coming up — especially amid the turbulence of the Great Resignation — is how to attract younger employees to offset the industry’s rapidly aging workforce.
We’ve noticed it when we do on-site visits. We’ve listened, with empathy, as customers express their growing concern that they’re losing their institutional knowledge-keepers. One customer even told us a dire prediction that 25% of their workforce will age out over the next decade.
National data reinforces the anecdotes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industrial workforce employs 20% fewer adults ages 20 to 24 than the nation’s economy as a whole. Meanwhile, there are 20% more industrial workers from ages 55 to 64 than the nation as a whole.
This flip-flopped reality means we have a lot of very experienced folks working in our nation’s warehouses and factories — a great value to our industry, to be sure. But it’s a value we’ll lose if we don’t work intentionally to learn from them (and train the next generation) before they set off on their much-deserved retirement years.
How to Get Started
So here’s the task at hand. Companies — likely yours included — need to attract younger workers now so they have time to learn from experienced employees. At the same time, you’ll need to translate all of that knowledge into standard operating procedures to support the ongoing transition.
How do you do that? It’s something we do every day at Vsimple, where we’ve developed software to help companies become more efficient and organized. Here’s what we recommend.
Start by digging into your specific workflows and procedures until you have a strong, agreed-upon understanding of the who, what, when, and where. Record all this information — the goal here is to get whatever is stored in your employees’ brains “on paper,” so to speak. (Bonus tip: We like to color code the people and platforms in the process so it’s easy to understand, at a glance, where or with whom steps live.)
Technology certainly makes this mapping effort much easier. And while the Vsimple team loves whiteboards as much as the next guy, you’ll want to choose something a bit more permanent. We recommend tools like Whimsical, Visio, Lucidchart, and Miro.
Now it’s time to zero in on opportunities to reduce errors, delays, or other friction points. We are often able to eliminate or consolidate a lot of steps from the original process through this exercise.
Bring on the Tech
Once you have your processes locked down, it’s time to evaluate technology options that can automatically manage your new, streamlined workflows. Unlike traditional project management tools like Monday or Asana which are one size fits all, Vsimple provides a platform unique to the customer’s needs.
Vsimple doesn’t always replace existing systems. Sometimes it’s unifying them in a single view or indeed sometimes replacing outdated ones in particular. This way, there’s one place to work and one way to work. This extends across roles and teams to make work more efficient for everyone, whether they’ve been with your company for decades or a few weeks.
We’ve helped companies like ProLift Toyota Material Handling boost efficiency, reduce order processing time, speed up the conversion from invoice to cash, and — perhaps everyone’s favorite — cut down on email traffic. A typical customer reduces email volume by more than 50 percent. And in the case of ProLift Toyota Material Handling, the company’s 450+ person workforce now enjoys complete visibility across all departments and eight locations.
I think of it as watching a basketball game and seeing every play instead of just hearing the final score. You can’t make positive adjustments without seeing all the action on the court.
A Generational Divide
I’ll admit something to you: Company veterans are sometimes skeptical of efforts to bring new technology into processes they’ve managed for decades. You may run into the same if you use workflow management software as a tool. But today’s short-staffing motivates many to reconsider. Drowning in email, they are won over by the prospect of making work more efficient, less time-consuming, and definitely less stressful.
Young workers, on the other hand, are tech-savvy — they’re looking for companies with strong tech infrastructure. They want tasks that are intellectually stimulating, not mundane busy work. Our industry needs to make that shift, and technology will enable us to do it. Becoming more efficient frees up your team — young or old — to work on the work that matters.
But it isn’t just prospective workers who benefit. Your company can widen its recruiting pool with well-documented processes, supported by workflow software. You’ll no longer be restricted to hiring folks with 20 years of specialized industry knowledge because you’ll have a how-to guide for new employees to learn the ropes.
Technology also opens businesses up to recruiting remote employees from anywhere in the country, exponentially widening your talent pool.
It’s never easy to rethink the old ways of doing things. But if we want to ensure the future of our industry, we have to take on the task. Luckily there are tools to help you prepare your business for the next generation.
About the Author:
Buddy Bockweg is the Founder and CEO of Vsimple. www.vsimple.com