Community Conversation peeks into the factory of the future

Syspro CHRO Terence Moolman says manufacturers have to pivot to accommodate the reality of remote work.

In this week’s Community Conversation, sponsored by Workday, Syspro CHRO Terence Moolman focused on HR’s role in automation as an integral part of the remote working experience for manufacturing and distribution focused businesses. 

“We recently conducted a survey and found that there has been a remote working impact on manufacturing. The data was clear: an overwhelming majority of the companies, currently unable to provide remote workforce enablement, would invest to facilitate remote working and are open to flexible working arrangements and remote working post-Covid 19,” he explained.

Respondents realised that they would lose talent if flexible working was not introduced. Even though so many South Africans are unemployed, only about 47 percent of the automation skills needed will be available in South Africa.

“There are therefore three things we need to focus on: skills, impact on culture and preparing what I call the factory of the future,” Terence said, adding that there has been a spike in demand for specialist skills, which have become more expensive to bring into business. 

“So, the top question for almost every industry now is, how can employees be reskilled in a small space of time? We probably won’t find all skills in the marketplace and need internship programmes. A couple of years ago, there were learnerships. Today, there’s almost a need to run a learnership in order to run a learnership. This puts additional pressure on succession planning and global mobility,” noted Terence.

As a result, companies have to start looking at how to make a person with basic education and training perform a more complex task by using technology. This can be done by simplifying the complexity of a system through the interface. 

As a result, user interface and user experience (UI/UX) specialists are needed. However, there is a dearth of these skills in South Africa and it is becoming tricky, both from an availability and cost perspective.

Culture

Since the onset of Covid-19 and remote working becoming the new normal, it is clear that the traditional way of building and sustaining culture is no longer sustainable. 

“Culture is now more important than ever. I used to love walking through the building and chatting with people. Now people are scattered. Employees connect through meetings, which are always about business. Some people don’t switch on their cameras for online meetings and you can’t get a sense of them,” Terence said.

“If you want to build a culture, it’s not only about business, but also employee wellness and wellbeing. Not all employees are equipped for remote working and they also face social pressure at home.”

For HR leaders, the big challenge lies in transforming the physical culture experience. This essentially means a shift from physical wellness to digital wellness when employees are no longer on the premises.

Factory of the future

An HR digital transformation strategy, to get the organisation ready at a more strategic level, is a key component for factory-based industries like manufacturing and distribution.

The thinking is that HR needs to be a specialist in the field of human resources as well as technology to manage those resources. There are a number of things to consider, like how to create jobs for the skills already in place and how long will it take to upskill people, all while trying to develop skills for the industry.

The key seems to lie in making the user experience so simplified that people can use the modules in a system with very little training.

“There’s no Facebook or WhatsApp training. It’s intuitive because the interface is simplified. These are things we need to look at for the factory of the future. Maybe the answer lies in having an interim phase, where automation is an enhancement first,” Terence said.