In a world obsessed with the future of work, we forget that many key industries and services continue to operate through the pandemic. Blue-collar workers are the backbone of industries such as those responsible for our food, water, energy, infrastructure, buildings, transportation, sanitation, law enforcement, fire and rescue services, raw materials, manufacturing, and waste management. Our digital age emphasizes how information workers give businesses the capability to efficiently trade and operate. Yet, without the blue-collar workforce, life doesn’t exist as we know it.
In its traditional sense, a blue-collar worker refers to workers who perform strenuous manual tasks. Today, the focus is on building a workforce that can operate, repair, and maintain technology rather than perform physical tasks. This knowledge gap makes it difficult for both historical blue-collar workers to find jobs and for manufacturers, by example, to recruit qualified people for the job.
- According to a study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, U.S manufacturers state that it’s 36% harder to find the right talent today than it was in 2018, even as the unemployment rate has nearly doubled the number of available workers. This highlights the gap between the skills manufacturers are looking for and the skills available.
- As many as 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled by 2030. This shortage could ultimately cost the U.S. economy up to $1 Trillion dollars.
- According to a McKinsey report, the prediction that machines and automation would destroy more jobs than they would create has thus far been proven wrong. Even the most advanced factories in terms of automation, the “lighthouses”, are hiring heavily.
- In a 2018 report, the World Economic Forum (WEF) said that while automation could lead to the displacement of 75 million jobs between then and 2022, this would be outpaced by a whopping 133 million jobs it could create in the same timeframe. Automation will merely change the way people use their time.
- As such, as many as 375 million workers may need to switch occupational categories and learn new skills.
A Deloitte report on the Services Industry, which includes construction and infrastructure, facilities management, business process outsourcing (BPO), legal, consultancy, and recruitment highlighted the following:
- 84% of all workers think it’s important for their companies to use the latest technology available to them.
- 51% of blue-collar workers classify themselves as “very light” users of technology in their workplace. Yet, 47% of blue-collar workers use their smartphones more than 5 times per day outside of work. Only 13% do the same at work.
- 56% of senior white-collar workers will give up job security for greater job flexibility. Only 19% of skilled blue-collar workers feel the same. 63% of white-collar workers are looking forward to working with more flexibility.
With the technology available today, roughly half of the repetitive manual tasks performed by blue-collar workers can be automated. More importantly, only about 5% of jobs can be done totally unsupervised.
Blue-collar digitalization should be geared to reduce unplanned downtime, lost asset productivity, and failed outcomes. To enable efficient learning and ensure a smooth transition for employees, companies will need to communicate the ongoing changes to their workers. Leaders might look at training blue-collar workers as a bigger challenge, however, identifying skill gaps gives more clarity on what is most needed. Developing engaging learning modules that are comprehensible for employees is a worthy education method. Videos and audios are a great way for people to learn. Courses should familiarize employees with the basics and then build on it to increase their knowledge. During this time, leaders can motivate employees with appreciation and recognition, while ensuring that no one is left behind.
Blue-collar digitalization typically depends on anywhere, anytime access. In this regard, Cloud computing offers a practical, affordable way to aggregate and store data. With Mobile Apps in support, push notifications and less cluttered content feeds can deliver timely and actionable information to the entire workforce.
Ultimately, transforming the business with a digital future will require collaboration between different parts of the company. It starts with a clear action plan that includes onboarding, employee support, progress assessment, and regular communication.