Training workforces in digitisation of the supply chain: Q&A with DHL

By James Henderson
We spoke with Klaus Dohrmann, Vice President Strategy and Development for the Engineering & Manufacturing (E&M) sector, Customer Solutions &amp...

We spoke with Klaus Dohrmann, Vice President Strategy and Development for the Engineering & Manufacturing (E&M) sector, Customer Solutions & Innovation about how businesses can help guide their workforces through the ever-changing digitisation that supply chains are undergoing. Here’s what he had to say.

SCD: What is the future for Engineering & Manufacturing in terms of digitisation of the supply chain?

KD: The future is here right now for engineering & manufacturing (E&M) businesses. They are constantly being challenged across the whole supply chain to ensure customer demands are met both in terms of time and quality in our ever-evolving, one-click society. Our customers’ customers expect to receive everything almost instantly whilst maintaining quality and as a result, we have to ensure we can help improve efficiencies across every step of the supply chain. Digitisation is playing a huge role in our capabilities as an industry. We will no longer see traditional manufacturing methods working in isolation. They will be teamed with a new generation of methods in which digitisation is embedded to reduce inefficiencies across the industry.

Why is it important to train workforces in the developing digitisation of the E&M industry?

If you don’t invest in upskilling your workforce to match their expertise with advancements in technology, then how are you supposed to capitalise on the opportunity that digital presents? If your workforce cannot fully utilise the technologies you employ within your business, you risk wasting resources and ultimately, investment. By taking the time and energy to invest in people, businesses can unlock a more productive working style, and experience the true potential of digital. You need to have consistency across the capabilities of the technologies and the ability of your workforce.

Digitisation within the E&M industry offers businesses a huge opportunity to drive efficiencies across the whole supply chain. But we need to remember that without training, it is virtually impossible to reap the rewards of adopting new technologies. By introducing training for workforces to be able to embrace the advances in technology, E&M businesses can reduce human delays and improve service levels whilst also adhering to complex compliance specifications.

What’s more, it is no secret that our industry is facing the threat of a labor shortage. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that more than 60 million “boomers” will exit the workforce by 2025, while only 40 million will take their place. This is not only affecting the US but is also vividly apparent in parts of Europe too such as Germany. The aging workforce means we need to act fast to fill the gap between new recruits and existing staff – how else will we keep up with customer demand if we don’t invest now, while time is still on our side? As an industry we need to incentivise the workforce to learn new skills because as retention of the workforce continues and  the average age increases, we need to encourage skills development with this pool of employees.

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How is digitisation affecting the supply chain?

This is a fascinating development and it’s evolving far quicker than the industry could have predicted. From a very top-line perspective, digitisation is allowing manufacturing and engineering businesses to catch up with those in the other service sectors. Integrated supply chains are allowing E&M companies to generate vast amounts of data in real time – from tracking items across the supply chain to overall equipment performance and the status of customer-specific configurations. With this information, we are able to track each step of the supply chain, identifying new trends or potential issues and acting on them. This is critical for numerous reasons and offers many benefits, including collaboration, better planning, improved efficiency, and shorter response times which will ultimately help to drive better business and meet customer demand.

How is the digitally evolved supply chain impacting workforces?

We are all undergoing this shift together which is causing a genuine sense of excitement in the industry and a willingness to learn. There has never been a challenge like digitisation in the industry and the next ten years will be very telling of those businesses – and employees - which are able to accept this challenge and embrace what it offers.

Technological advances are disrupting existing business models in the E&M industry, which means supply chain roles have changed hugely over the last decade.  Globalisation paired with digitisation means that supply chain professionals now need to understand not only their own supply chains, but that of their suppliers and customers across the world. Job specifications are not the same as they have historically been and there is a real opportunity to join an industry which has potential for growth which could result in fresh new talent entering the industry.

Not only is there fresh technologically-minded talent to recruit from, but there is also the option to recruit from anywhere in the world. When we think of E&M businesses, we think of people in warehouses and factories, what we don’t imagine is someone working from the other side of the globe analysing data and predicting trends, but this is the reality of the industry today. Digital is forcing globalisation on businesses in a positive way and it is only set to continue as the industry needs evolve further.

Does training workforces increase productivity?

Absolutely. If you were to give a team of people a new piece of technology without training, how long would it take them to use it effectively and what impact would this have on your business? That’s like giving someone flat-pack assembly furniture without the instructions. Businesses can get the best out of their teams by training them to be leaders and champions for the new technologies. I firmly believe in return on investment and the productivity levels that can be achieved by digitally educating the workforce is monumental. It’s all well and good talking about the potential that big data offers us– but who is going to interpret the data and identify those trends? Training plays a key role up-skilling the existing workforce within the digital supply chain. E&M businesses need to remember that machinery aside, their workforce is the engine that drives the supply chain.

If you were to give businesses one tip in training their workforce, what would it be?

Make your employees part of the change. It’s tempting to close off from digital and just complete processes in the same way you’ve always done them and it’s difficult to embrace change if you don’t feel part of it.. If you don’t encourage your employees to embrace this new way of working in the supply chain, the change may be met with resistance. By including employees in the transformation, you can encourage them to be advocates for the digital activity within the business, positively adopting the changes and ensuring digital integration is a success.


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