Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Features Industry Watch
Gamification: why it matters to manufacturing


March 31, 2020
By Paul Hogendoorn

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Photo: Getty ImagesPhoto: Getty Images

Think about the importance of people in your manufacturing business for a moment. Yes, they are your employees, and yes, they are most likely your biggest input cost and your biggest monthly expense.

Yes, they may be your most valuable resource, and yes, your biggest headache at the same time. People are important to your operation, sustainability and viability. But they are more than that – they are representative of your most important audience – your customers.

In North America, the middle class was made by manufacturing companies and continues to be sustained by the industry. The healthier our manufacturing industry, the healthier our economy, and, likely, the healthier our society in general. It’s all connected. But things are changing, and our manufacturing companies need to change, too. And the biggest change is because our people are changing.

A whole generation is approaching retirement and manufacturing companies are struggling to replace them. The incoming generation is very different from the exiting generation. Marketers have already identified the differences and have helped companies tailor their product and sales methods to reach the new generation – but the same transformation process hasn’t happened when it comes to trying to attract the generation to the workplace, and that’s a mistake.

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But things are changing, and our manufacturing companies need to change, too. And the biggest change is because our people are changing.

We compete for the young generations’ attention to sell them our products and services, and we need to do the same thing to attract them to our industry. How we think of them as potential employees should be how we think of them as customers – they are critical to our long-term success. We need them just as excited about our jobs as the products we hope to sell them.

My generation – the boomers – wanted white picket fences, two cars in the driveway, and to be able to put our kids through college and university. On average, we worked for three companies over our entire career. Generation X followed, changing jobs a bit more often, with more focus on personal career status.

Generation Y is very focused on more work-life balance, social engagement, and they tend to change jobs even more often. And following them, we have Generation Z, the most tech-savvy and tech-addicted generation of them all. Plus, Generation Z is as passionate about effecting societal change (climate issues) as the boomers were in the late 60s (ending a war).

As the oldest group moves out of our workplaces, we need to aggressively change our workplaces and careers to attract and accommodate the newest generation.

At first glance, the new generation appears to be vastly different from the boomers, but in two critical ways, they are very much the same: they have a strong need for purpose, and a desire to be part of a physical (non-virtual) community. Where they differ is their need of feedback – they need constant feedback to remain engaged, and when they are not engaged, they do not remain.

To attract the best of this generation, and to keep them, we need to offer them a workplace that offers them all three: purpose, community, and lots of feedback to keep them engaged. Think of bowling alleys and movie theatres in the 1980s – they were good enough to meet the needs of the boomer generation, but they both went into rapid decline and many thought they were obsolete.

As the oldest group moves out of our workplaces, we need to aggressively change our workplaces and careers to attract and accommodate the newest generation.

But, check out a bowling and entertainment facility today, or a multi-screen theatre, and you see the exact opposite. The parking lots are overflowing and the facilities are full every night of the week. Their product is fundamentally the same, but they adapted to their target audience, and they are thriving. Our manufacturing plants need that type of transformation, and gamification can be a part of that.

Gamification is simply a matter of making meaningful things more visible, and more interesting, in real time. Your bulletin board by the punch clock, for instance, is likely filled with posters and information that is weeks or months old. The metrics you provide as performance feedback are likely disconnected from the actual work they do in their departments or on their machines, and those metrics are probably days or weeks old.

Think of how this generation has grown up, with instantaneous feedback, visually presented in very interesting ways. Every action in a game yields a result, and that drives continued engagement. The other thing noteworthy about video games today is that many are collaborative, with players not playing against each other but playing with each other to build a city or achieve a victory.

The manufacturing companies that will succeed and thrive in the future will be the companies that attract the best people from the coming generation by adapting their workplaces, making them more attractive, the work more engaging, and the time spent more meaningful.

Paul Hogendoorn co-founded FreePoint Technologies with the goal of giving manufacturers the benefit of information technologies that inform, empower and motivate their most critical asset – their people.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 edition of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.