With over half the industry's workforce aged over 35, and a third aged over 40, businesses in manufacturing, lumber, distribution and retail are facing a dangerous skills gap on their factory floors, if they fail to recruit new talent before too long. This is one of the findings of the latest research[i] from Epicor Software Corporation, a global provider of industry-specific enterprise software to promote business growth.
Only a quarter (23%) of businesses agreed they find it easy to attract the right talent, with the right industry knowledge, suggesting they might soon hit crisis point. In addition, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the country's unemployment rate has dropped to the lowest rate in 17 years (3.9%), contributing to a widening skills gap.
The young talent problem
Despite recent technology developments—including advancements in AI, IoT and robotics—business leaders attribute the emerging skills and knowledge gap to the fact that there's a perception these industries are behind the times. Many businesses in manufacturing, lumber, distribution and retail believe they are perceived as being old-fashioned (23%), and a quarter agree they are not seen as working within a 'young person's industry' (25%).
At the same time, 32 percent think young people lack the right skills/ experience to work in industry. One-in-five (22%) believes that the education system simply isn't doing them any favours primarily because it's not preparing or encouraging young people into manufacturing.
Robots to build efficiencies into the workforce
Implementing new technologies and ways of working could be the answer to both provide the industry with the skills or knowledge needed, while encouraging more young talent to consider roles in manufacturing, lumber, distribution and retail. For example, 41 percent of businesses are implementing some form of robot technology, because they can automate mundane work (54%), free up people to work on more creative tasks (40%), and can optimise processes faster and more effectively than humans (34%).
Technology attracts new recruits
41 percent also agreed that young people want the opportunity to work with the latest innovations, so implementing new technology can bring real recruitment benefits as well as business efficiencies for industrial firms.
20 percent said the chance to work with robotics and AI is a big draw for young talent, and 33 percent of millennials want the opportunity to work at the cutting edge of new developments.
Enterprise resource planning could plug the gap
Innovations such as the latest release of Epicor ERP (version 10.2.200)—announced today to more than 3,000 Epicor customers at Insights 2018—are being embraced by businesses as a way of tackling the industry's knowledge gap.
The millennial-friendly interface Epicor ERP provides is easy to use because of its enhanced home page capabilities. This makes it attractive to new recruits, who may not have the experience of working with an ERP solution in the past, and who want to be able to use the software immediately with minimal training.
The ability to input and manipulate data has also been simplified, making advanced analytics easier to manage. This allows users greater visibility of the information generated by all other equipment on the factory floor—such as production line machinery, robots, AI algorithms, and more.
Azure AD (Active Directory) integration for cloud and mobile clients, including multi-factored authentication, makes the latest version of Epicor ERP highly available. This fits young recruits, who are hard-wired with a desire to access crucial business information wherever they are. "We are excited to be able to use our Azure Active Directory with Epicor ERP," said Mark Wonsil, ERP specialist, Perceptron, Inc. "Our users now have the same security options as their Office 365 accounts—including Multi-Factor Authentication."
Scott Hays, senior vice president, product marketing at Epicor said, "If young talent is being persuaded away from jobs in industry, there's a serious perception problem that needs to change. Arguably, it is an exciting time to be in industries like manufacturing, distribution, and retail that are poised for digital transformation and are far from old-fashioned. With robotics and AI advancing at a rapid pace, we are seeing the smart factory and warehouse of the future advance quickly. This gives us the perfect opportunity to encourage new skills in the workplace, and future-proof our progress.
"Technology, we believe, holds the key to plugging the knowledge gap. The presence of robots on the manufacturing floor, and in the warehouse, will not only help businesses achieve more at a time when they are struggling to recruit the right humans, but they will also help to boost the prestige of industrial roles—making them more attractive to young people, more exciting and more cutting-edge. Solutions like Epicor ERP provide businesses with data visibility and help multiple teams work together seamlessly, are fast becoming the foundation for digital transformation that many businesses need."
 U.S. Department of Labor press release is available at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf