Skip to main content

Addressing the skills gap in manufacturing’s new normal

Man using Remote Assist on a mobile device. Lifestyle photography. Contextual imagery.

Can digitization address the manufacturing skills gap and worker safety?

Even before the pandemic, manufacturing has been changing so quickly that it can be difficult for your workforce to keep upIn fact, Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute had estimated that up to 2.4 million US manufacturing jobs could remain unfilled between 2018 and 2028 because of a lack of adequate skills.1 

According to a Deloitte and MAPI survey2 of manufacturers, the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation exacerbating the growing skills gap on the shop floor, and its also introducing new challenges for worker safety and productivity. And on top of it all, customer needs and demands for remote monitoring and services, and for more agile factory and supply chain responses, are adding pressure to your business. 

In short, your workforce must transform to keep up. That starts with embracing technology that can attract, train, and retain the next generation of workers, as well as enabling them with the skills they need to reimagine manufacturing and shape a sustainable future, in the new normal. The structure and execution of talent processes will need to be re-thought and built around the realities of a likely protracted and uneven recovery, to continue achieving desired business outcomes as well as inclusive employee experiences.3

Here’s the good news for manufacturers: by combining the right productivity apps, intelligent cloud services, and security, the industry can set its workforces up for success. Manufacturers embracing digital transformation can gain more productivity from their workforces by: 

  • Connecting empowered technicians securely with remote assets to troubleshoot and resolve issues, so technicians are dispatched only when necessary.
  • Providing frontline workers with the remote, expert assistance needed to avoid downtime, and enabling them to do their best work by unifying devices, data, relationships, and processes into intelligent apps that guide them safely through best practices and compliance requirements.
  • Boosting productivity by augmenting people with team collaboration tools, mixed-reality guides and remote assists, IoT-enabled machines, and AI-enhanced applications to keep pace with increased operational, maintenance, and process complexity. 

Technology enabling the manufacturing transformation

At the heart of this digital transformation is, of course, technology. And within the manufacturing industry, the ball is already rolling. A pre-pandemic PwC study shows that 91 percent of industrial companies are investing in digital factories, but only 6 percent of all respondents describe their factories as “fully digitized.”4

In Deloitte and MAPI’s 2020 study2 of smart manufacturing, 62 percent of leaders surveyed are continuing smart factory investments, and allocating 20 percent more to those initiatives than last year, in response to the pandemic.

Technology is driving the future of manufacturing in two distinct ways.  

Let’s dive into the first: technology enables agile business practices that allow for productivity from anywhere. Research from Boston Consulting Group and KRC Research commissioned by Microsoft revealed that 97 percent of business leaders expect a more hybrid way of working in the longer-term.5 With workforces spread across homes and job sites around the world, manufacturers have several key opportunities to embrace a technology-focused approach. 

  • When it comes to remote work and productivity, manufacturers have an opportunity to equip their organizations and their frontline workers with powerful and intuitive tools that deliver a remote yet connected and integrated business experience.
  • Ongoing COVID-19 impact on workforce health and safety concern disrupting manufacturing and supply chain operations. When the workforce re-enters the physical workplace, strong health and safety protocols will be crucial for prevention and containment of spikes.3 There are new and advanced ways to achieve this through technology.
  • While increased connectivity and mobility are valuable advantage as we head into this new normal, security and compliance are more important than ever. With more and more data susceptible to cyberattacks, manufacturers need to find ways to minimize the risk. 

The second way technology is driving the future of manufacturing is by helping to reskill workforces and close the skills gap on the shop floor. That means organizations need to start empowering their employees to embrace a new way of working. They need to enhance worker skill sets today by giving them new opportunities to learn the skills of tomorrow. There are several key opportunities for manufacturers to do this: 

  • New technology breeds new opportunities to learn new skills. So when it comes to learning and knowledge management, manufacturers need to deliver a learning solution that aggregates educational content for employees and gives them exactly what they need to be retrained and reskilled. COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of fully digitized approaches to re-create the best of in-person learning through live video and social sharing.6
  • Empowering frontline workers starts with connecting fronline workers. By giving workforces a large network of digital tools and modern devices that offer the best experiences for collaboration and productivity, manufacturers can help bring their workers into the next normal.
  • Manufacturers don’t want to simply adjust to a digitally transformed industry. They also want to drive better business outcomes through process and workflow automation. To achieve this, they need to empower their workforces with tools and solutions that fully integrate people and processes.
  • Through modern HR and talent management, organizations have an opportunity to balance operational excellence, organizational agility, and top-level employee experience. With the help of exciting new mixedreality tools like guides and remoteassist programs, manufacturers can draw, onboard, and retain talented workers who can deliver impactful results.  

The bottom line is that manufacturers need to deploy more agile, remote business practices while also empowering their employees to increase productivity. Microsoft enables manufacturers to digitally transform to achieve growth and exceptional customer and social outcomes through digital technology. We’re fueling the manufacturing industry’s digital transformation with technology and a manufacturing ecosystem of partners that can help you: 

  • Transform your workforce by combining productivity apps, intelligent cloud services, and security to restructure the way you work.
  • Engage customers in new ways by delivering relevant customer experiences across marketing, sales, and service channels.
  • Build more agile, safe, and secure factories of the future with IT, OT, and industrial IoT.
  • Create more resilient supply chains that improve service resilience and profitability through intelligent supply chain planning and execution.
  • Unlock innovation and delivering new services with digital twins and cloud-based innovation that deliver new business value with sustainable products and digital services.  

The world is changing, and customers are putting pressure on manufacturers to deliver. By focusing on trust, innovation, security, and compliance, Microsoft can enable your manufacturing business’s digital transformationfrom the shop floor to your customers’ doorand help organizations like yours manufacture a more resilient and sustainable future. 

Learn more about setting your workforce up for success by reading our ebook. Facing the future of manufacturing.

For more information about intelligent manufacturing from Microsoft, visit the Microsoft manufacturing industry page.


1Deloitte Insights and the Manufacturing Institute, 2018 Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute Skills Gap and Future of Work Study, 2018.

2Smart Manufacturing Ecosystems: A Catalyst for Digital Transformation?, 2020 Deloitte and MAPI Study finds ecosystems can create competitive edge for manufacturers facing ongoing disruption.

3COVID-19 workforce strategies for a post-COVID-19 recovery workbook”, Deloitte, 2020.

4PwC, Digital Factories 2020: Shaping the Future of Manufacturing, April 2017.

5Hybrid working here to stay”, Microsoft & Boston Consulting Group & KRC Research, 2020.

6To emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, companies should start reskilling their workforces now”, McKinsey & Company, May 7, 2020.