Building a New Industrial Workforce: How AI and Digital Tools are Helping Combat the Labor Shortage

A new report from ManpowerGroup reveals that “U.S. employer thirst for hiring is at an all-time high”—especially among supply chain industries that have seen a surge in demand during the pandemic era, such as transportation, logistics, and warehousing. Meanwhile, labor shortages in these same industries are also at an all-time high. Companies have been offering both financial and non-financial incentives to attract and retain scarce talent throughout 2021. Now, they are facing the additional pressure of a fast-approaching holiday season, which experts anticipate will further increase demand and exacerbate these existing challenges.

In this increasingly demanding and competitive environment, how are industrial companies rethinking the way they work? Data shows that customers—spanning diverse industries such as transportation, utilities, manufacturing, and more—are increasingly leveraging digital tools and AI to help weather these challenges and improve the employee experience so they can both attract and retain employees.

API connections are helping break down data silos and streamline internal processes, communication

Today, companies are deploying a greater number of apps and systems across their business operations than ever before. Siloed systems can be a huge challenge to internal information-sharing and communication with employees in the field—a challenge exacerbated by increasingly remote work. In fact, surveys of employees in the field (such as commercial drivers) repeatedly show that communication is a key factor in retention.

APIs make it possible to share information between different systems and develop new information pathways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. For example, using API endpoints between third-party or internal systems and the Mobility platform, many of customers are able to connect the dots between previously disparate data sources. Many industrial organizations have identified APIs as their “largest enabler of digital transformation strategies,” especially when it comes to streamlining internal processes and communication.

For telecommunications utility company Uniti Fiber, API integrations have been critical in helping them break down data silos and communicate with technicians in the field more efficiently. Previously, their dispatch team had to synthesize data from multiple vendors in order to respond to an issue in the field. Then, they had to call around to find the right technician using a phone tree—which usually took 25+ minutes. Leveraging multiple API endpoints, they now see real-time fleet location data overlaid on a live view of their fiber network. This allows them to quickly identify the type of technician needed for a job, communicate with the proper personnel to handle the customer request based on proximity, and dispatch that person in minutes.

A 2021 research report of today’s frontline workers found that more than half (52%) said the opportunity to work in a more modern, digital environment would influence their decision to leave their current company. Today, industrial organizations must compete with high-tech companies by making their jobs more appealing and modern. Facing these pressures, many are embracing digital tools to modernize workflows and help newer employees make fewer errors when following a company process, bridging the skills gap.

AI is helping proactively detect risks, automate previously time-consuming tasks, and improve the employee experience

Beyond hiring and training, another key challenge posed by the labor shortage is employee retention. Across transportation, warehousing, and utilities, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a turnover rate of more than 46%, a high rate likely influenced by the challenging and sometimes dangerous nature of the work. As a result, many industrial organizations are turning to AI to help proactively detect both safety and security risks, automate previously manual tasks, and provide richer data to coach and reward employees—improving the employee experience

For example, dash cams use AI to detect and alert drivers to potential safety risks, such as distracted driving. Similarly, site security cameras use AI to detect and alert managers to possible security risks, such as motion in restricted areas. Data shows increased AI detections in both these areas. O’Neal Steel, one of the largest family-owned wholesale metal distributors in the United States, is just one example of how industrial organizations are increasingly leveraging AI to improve the employee experience. With a handful of smaller sites that often go unstaffed during the late hours of the night, O’Neal Steel supervisors used to spend hours every morning passively searching through security camera footage to see if a delivery was made the previous night. Now, with AI-powered motion detection alerts, their team has experienced a 92% reduction in time spent manually reviewing footage. Not only is this intelligent automation saving the company 100 hours per week—but it has also made a huge impact on their employees’ day-to-day experience, helping them retain talent in a competitive market

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