Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Close your talent gap with collaboration

May 3, 2017
By Rick Huijbregts Cisco Canada

May 3, 2017 – This article was originally going to focus on how collaboration solutions — technologies that allow us to connect via voice, messaging and video — are helping manufacturers resolve issues on the plant floor faster and for less money.

Then The Future of the Manufacturing Labour Force in Canada report was released and revealed Canadian manufacturers are facing a talent gap of 129,000 skilled workers by 2026.

Skilled employees currently on the factory floor are, on average, older than the overall labour force — in some communities, 20 per cent are over the age of 55. We are about to lose many of the senior leaders on our factory floors.

We do not have the talent to replace them.

This impending skill shortage is attributed to a need for better education and development of these workers, a gap which could be significantly narrowed through on-the-job training. And we aren’t alone. In the United States, a report from the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte LLC forecasts a potential skills gap of 2 million jobs over the same period.


Manufacturers on both sides of the border have a challenge ahead of them: find ways to train young talent with fewer resources and mentors to guide them. Oh, and be sure to keep those young workers after they are trained by providing ongoing career development and education opportunities.

It is not going to be easy. But with the right collaboration solutions, manufacturers can close their talent gap.

Remote mentorship and expertise
With inexpensive video and meeting solutions, experienced workers close to retirement can mentor younger colleagues, even those thousands of kilometers away, from home. This avoids unnecessary travel for older workers and allows them to share valuable knowledge before retirement. Equally important, this interaction takes place in an environment comfortable for the next generation of leaders — the virtual space.

Collaboration solutions extend this remote expert experience to the factory floor by immediately connecting an expert in one location to workers in another when an issue arises. Imagine you had three factories: two in Ontario, one in Quebec. Your most experienced machinists and engineers in Quebec have retired, leaving you vulnerable to downtime when a machine or line issue occurs. Using video technology, your Ontario engineers connect with those in Quebec immediately and see what is happening, in real time, on the floor. Unplanned downtime is minimized, and inexperienced staff have the opportunity to develop their skills, guided by experts. And for workers close to retirement, their expertise can be leveraged without requiring expensive, time-consuming travel.

Education and training
Many manufacturers will lose talent in the coming years. Those who prioritize employee education will lose the least talent and will likely be the most successful financially. Enhancing education and training, through interactive, online meeting spaces and two-way video, to connect employees will lead to greater engagement and progress.

There are a few reasons for this. First, a large number of employees can be trained at once across all locations. The training can be recorded and used within a syllabus of development courses for new hires. Second, for senior production staff and management, conducting training and development sessions over video vastly reduces the time, and money, spent on multiple in-person events, putting valuable time back on their calendars and money back into the company.

Talent acquisition
As the labour force ages, millennials are becoming the dominant demographic in the workforce, inching past baby boomers in the U.S., and are accustomed to new ways of working. They regularly communicate with friends and family over social networks and video and expect similar experiences in the workplace. They are also comfortable using technology and quickly learn how to operate collaboration solutions such as messaging and workspace applications, online meeting spaces and video technologies. Yet according to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, 61 per cent of millennials plan to leave their current role within the next five years and 75 per cent would like to work from home or do so more frequently. By offering experiences that mirror how these employees prefer to connect, manufacturers can position themselves to better secure and retain talent for years to come.

For certain roles, manufacturers should take advantage of the freedom high-definition video solutions can offer remote workers. Interviews can be conducted from anywhere in the world, permitting the best talent to be hired regardless of location. And that same talent can remain remote, conducting meetings with colleagues, partners and vendors from their home while staying connected through voice, messaging and video solutions. This presents an opportunity for manufacturers to look beyond their immediate community for the right employees to meet their needs.

The talent gap facing manufacturers is real. It’s not going to go away overnight, and there is no silver bullet solution. But there are steps manufacturers can take to lessen the impact within their facilities, and that starts with the right training and development opportunities for factory workers. And the most effective training and development opportunities will use technology to deliver immersive experiences and empower employees.

Rick Huijbregts is the vice president of digital transformation and innovation at Cisco Canada. He leads a team responsible for fuelling the digitization of customers across the country. He can be contacted at

This column was originally published in the May 2017 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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