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First published September 8 in the Digitalist by Folkert Haag


Building products employees have seen a dynamic shift in their industry compared to just a few years ago. Today’s building products employee is becoming a strategic knowledge worker. The shift to automation in digital transformation allows many employees to do a lot less data entry and to then change their focus from repetitive transactions to handling exceptions that fall outside the norm. These employees use data as a strategic tool to analyze the business. This creates the opportunity for faster production with smarter decisions. But how do they navigate the change in responsibility? Here’s a look at the process.



The fascinating evolution of a building products knowledge worker


Traditionally, the production worker has dealt in repetitive tasks. But as automation comes into play with the digital economy, workers take on a variety of different roles. Millennials entering the job market can appreciate the technology involved. They don’t remember a time when connectivity wasn’t readily available. They’re expected to make up over half the workforce by 2020. Their adaptability to the digital economy will help make operations run more smoothly. This is well understood by their employers, 30% of whom are paying close attention to how to keep that generation of workers happy. Their understanding of the technical aspects, exception handling, and the digital landscape will be of great benefit.


But what about the existing workforce? Those who have worked in production will need to be shifted to digital businesses processes. By doing so, you’re building a team of knowledge workers to control production, inventory, sales, and several additional areas. Because of the shift in production automation, rule-based decisions become automatic. This leads to the workers only dealing with exceptions and value-added transactions. If a production run had problems in the past, it would need to be caught by quality control. Today, models predict which parts will fail, allowing a more robust product to be developed. Being able to work with analytics such as this will require existing employees to step up for additional training in many cases. Instead of simply doing one part of an assembly, the worker will be managing a complex automated system.


But having the right technology for the changeover is equally as important as the worker. Vallourec was facing a 50% HR engagement and extensive performance review time for each employee. By adding in digital HR solutions, they were able to drive the company to nearly double the HR engagement at 99.7%. They were also able to cut off 30% of the performance review time. These significant changes were only possible because the company used the right solution for the problems that were being encountered.


Much like Vallourec’s situation, creating a knowledge worker requires the right approach. A technology needs to include an interface that is personalized, simple, and responsive to the user. It needs to provide this versatility across a number of devices to meet the user’s expectations. But what do you do with other employees? A digital business creates many new interactions. Those interactions need to happen between customers and service teams across multiple channels. It also needs to provide communication between core leadership and an extended workforce. Without accurate, up-to-date information, the business’ mission can’t be advanced. Though roles are shifting, people are still the main assets in a building products business.


Automation is helpful to knowledge workers because they are able to work smarter, faster, and more effectively. But managing the operation needs to remain simple. If it isn’t, workers will not make the needed progress, progress could be slowed down – and costs will go up. Automation and simplicity are both required to draw in and retain the millennial generation, who grew up on the concept that “there’s an app for that.” However, companies still have options – for example, if workers of any generation are not willing to take on the new workflow, contractors and service providers will do so at lower costs and more quickly.

It used to be that you would start in a company with a single job. If you worked hard and did a good job, there was a chance you’d advance within that company. But the days of remaining with a single employer all your life are much less common as people switch jobs more frequently. Being able to backfill knowledgeable workers is difficult, and many building products companies struggle with the impact on operations and quality when bringing new people up to speed. For that reason, using a solution service that improves engagement and simplifies the process makes it easier for experienced workers to continue in their job.


What’s the best way to keep your workforce engaged and evolving in the new digital economy? The right digital tools and partners. Learn more about Digital Transformation in Building Products