The pandemic changed the game for frontline workers–from healthcare to manufacturing and everything in between. Technology and automation leaped ahead in a way that means nearly every frontline job is now a digital or tech job in some way.
“The pandemic really accelerated the need for frontline workers to build a strong digital skillset,” says Ranita Jain, Senior Evaluation Manager of The Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program, which studied the transformation throughout the pandemic. She adds that there’s a “need to have a nimble and wide set of digital skills including communicating in a digital environment, being able to manage increase automation, the skills to use basic office software, and other technology in the workplace.”
Hao Dinh, Director of Global Digital Industrial Operations at Electrolux saw firsthand how even his organization’s already-innovative “smart factory” floor was further tested and transformed during the pandemic.
“When the pandemic hit and a lot of the factories were limited around the number of people that they can bring in and also the social distancing associated with it… that showed us…the robots, the automation, artificial intelligence actually work,” Dihn points out. He adds that, for manufacturing, about 95% of the industry is accelerating or doubling down on smart factories. “That’s caused us a bit of heartburn, because even before the pandemic to get these digital savvy people into our plants was challenging. Now with the demand tripling for this type of skillset, we’re challenged to get the right [workers] into our plants.”
But what if your digital skills are non-existent? Will every job now be out of reach?
Absolutely not, say Dinh and other hiring managers throughout the frontline industries. Electrolux other organizations in manufacturing, in particular, are increasing efforts around reskilling and upskilling when it comes to these digital skills so that those who want to learn can do so.
“There’s plenty of opportunities now when it comes to digital space, but the problem is we need to build that bridge to get people who aren’t very digital savvy to go and get trained so that they can partake and engage in these digital solutions,” he says.
Upskill America at the Aspen Institute conducted a full 12-month study throughout the pandemic, which was funded in part by Walmart.org. The study found the following digital skills for frontline workers surged in the past year:
- The need to interact with and manage increased automation have increased for 81% of frontline workers.
- Basic office software skills have increased in importance for nearly 80% of frontline workers.
- Skills to communicate in a digital environment have become more critical for 87% of frontline workers.
- Technology skills in the workplace have increased in importance for 88% of frontline workers.
The study authors go on to identify digital skill layers that can help workers and employers determine where on the scale of digital savviness job candidates or current workers are.
“The good news is that you don’t need to be a programmer or developer to work the frontline, but you should be able to function with technology on at least one of these primary levels,” says Stephanie Grubbs, Practice Director for The HT Group’s Staffing Division. Those levels are:
- As a universal adopter: You have independent access to reliable high-speed internet service and updated tools with which to access it.
- As a digital citizen: You know how to access and find information on the internet and have the technical skills to communicate and learn in a digital environment.
- As someone how is technologically informed: You have the skills to understand how digital transformation is happening in the workplace, how your job is affected, and how you can interact with the intelligence and machines being deployed.
- As a technology enabler: You understand technology tools that can be deployed at home or in the workplace and how to use these tools to improve job performance or for personal enhancement.
- As an instructor: You have the skills to assist digital citizens with their questions and problems so they can accomplish their tasks.
“What employers are seeking in frontline workers right now is potential,” Grubbs adds. “Do you have the capability, adaptability, and desire to learn how to progress the way you need to as your job evolves? If you do, training you is the (relatively) easy part.”
That’s because employers are expanding their education and training offerings both directly and with strategic partnerships. The training opportunities range from learning how to access the internet or use basic software to more advanced digital and tech skills. Tesla is the most recent example in the Austin area. Its START Manufacturing program through Austin Community College (ACC) is the first in the nation to provide a training pipeline for careers at Tesla’s manufacturing facilities. Selected students will be paid during their training to work with new and advanced technologies such as robotics and control systems to design, build, and maintain cutting-edge machines.
“Learning how to do your job in a new way can be intimidating, but you may find that when given the time, knowledge and freedom to explore these new technologies, you can excel,” Grubbs says. “Hiding from the changes won’t work. Digital transformation is everywhere. The key is finding employers eager to invest in teaching their workers how to learn, adapt to, and embrace the changes.”
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