a person standing next to a large machine

Historically the terms “blue collar” and “white collar” have been used to describe the difference between management and workers.  However, as IoT, AI and other technologies have emerged to create smarter factories, a new worker has emerged. Although most workforce changes are being attributed to generational shifts, it’s actually a shift in skillsets that is creating the most disruption for midsize manufacturers.

Last year IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty spoke of hiring more “new collar” workers. Workers of this kind don’t always have a four year degree, but do have vast technical skills and training. It’s no question that manufacturing companies are incorporating more advanced technology. This group of new collar workers thrive in such environments that incorporate high levels of automation.  With every new technology, data is generated straight from the shop floor, creating a feedback loop of information that gives the organization – and every worker – the ability to use proactive, predictive data to make better decisions on a daily basis. Successful digital transformation, including B2B ecommerce, incorporates information from these employees to help the system run smarter, faster and more efficiently.

The idea that a “robogeddon” is upon us is mere media hype. We’ve heard about the skills shortage in manufacturing and experts are predicting more than two million vacant jobs in this industry by 2025. However, smart factories will still need humans to work alongside computers and automated machinery. Those humans have different needs that represent a blend of technology and personal requirements. To turn this disruptor into an advantage, manufacturers need to first understand where to find the new collar worker – then learn ways to keep them motivated and inspired at work.

Where blue collar assembly line positions are being replaced by robots, a new collar job is being created to maintain and control that system. One trend to pay attention to is that as automation spreads, many new collar workers are attending vocational schools rather than attaining traditional four year degrees. Practical skills, and data/technology skills in particular, are in higher demand. In fact, many organizations like IBM are creating their own vo-tech institutions that combine four years of high school with two years of training in advanced technologies like cybersecurity, AI, data science and robotics.

Another aspect of this disruptor aligns with the way that new collar workers think. In this sense, new collar workers are driven by a difference in generational characteristics. While it’s important not to become ageist – as many workers in their fifties or even sixties are able to adapt to a technology-enabled environment – there is truth to some of the shifts noticed by HR and management consultants in terms of the way that these workers need to be motivated and managed. Understanding how to transform management practices to help support a more collaborative environment should be part of your strategy when determining how technology can best support your organization, particularly a hybrid ecommerce implementation with its complex interaction of sales, service and customer.

Much has been written about the needs of the new workforce, so we’ll just recap them here. But do understand that the top-down, compliance-driven work environment is fading. Here are some of the requirements for your organization to support the new collar worker, keep them happy, and keep retention strong:

  • Sense of purpose. Many new collar workers need to feel engaged in order to be energized. Be sure to include workers as much as possible when outlining your strategy and the direction of the organization.
  • Commitment to the greater good. Most post 9-11 workers don’t feel that pursuing profit is is the sole goal of work. They need to feel that their organization is contributing in some way to society at large.
  • Engagement in the true sense of the word. As we mentioned before, engagement is key and cannot be generated in a top-down manner. Workers need to feel they have up-to-the-minute information to do their jobs well.
  • Collaborative work environments with real rewards. Neither the carrot nor the stick approach works with new collar workers. There must be a feedback loop that recognizes workers and their teammates, with real incentives to encourage more desired behavior

B2B ecommerce feeds into every system in the organization, and for that reason may be the most affected by the shift in the workforce. Being unafraid to try new policies and processes – supported by technology – to attract and hang onto these talented new workers may be the biggest way to overcome this disruptor and take a major step ahead of the competition.

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