The digital age has ushered in major transformations for every industry but none more so than manufacturing. Between a major demographic shift as Millennials replace retiring Baby Boomers in the managerial ranks and how technology has created a new business paradigm, the need for updated skill sets, attitudes, and practices is hard to ignore.
As the originators of the top-down approach in the 20th century, it’s been hard for manufacturing experts to shake the standardized and hierarchal ways of the past. Last year, 86 percent of industry leaders thought their organizations were doing enough to prepare their people for Industry 4.0; this year, a 2019 survey echoed only 47 percent of this sentiment.
Why the drop in confidence? The manufacturing industry, for one, seems to be transforming faster than innovation occurs. New advancements in science and technology have led to the automation of many processes that once required human touch. From an outsiders’ perspective, that feels scary, but the fact is that technology creates more jobs than it destroys. The human touch is not being replaced; if anything, it is needed more than ever.
While new machinery and processes are being introduced on the line, interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence are still needed to work in concert with new technology. These “navigational skills”—adaptability and forward-thinking ability in the face of constant change—are becoming non-negotiable requirements for existing and new industry employees.
You can foster your team’s soft skills development in a few ways:
- Start with existing leaders. Your current leaders (even Millennials) need to shift their thinking about leadership to reflect fresh and transformative behaviors rather than force outdated ideologies to work on updated systems. Teach them to effectively listen and give feedback and encourage them to build trust-based environments. They should serve as the soft skills standard for their respective teams.
- Make leadership development available to all. Organizations often focus their time, money, and resources on a smaller subset of leadership. In today’s landscape, it’s more important to develop soft-skill leadership behaviors from moment one. Many Millennials report feelings of under-preparedness for Industry 4.0. Demonstrating a commitment to ongoing professional development will lead to increasing retention rates in your organization.
- Engage everyone in problem solving. The traditional model of knowledge transfer may serve its purpose for repetitive hard skills, but soft skills require a multimodal approach. We learn the nuances of humility and pragmatic planning from experience. Inviting team members to the table will allow them to understand expectations and how they can adapt if and when things change.
As machines replace humans in doing routine work, jobs are evolving to require a new combination of human skills and capabilities. The constant pace of innovation and technological advancement tends to overshadow the importance of soft skills and emotional intelligence, but they are needed now more than ever.