Brian Fortney, global business lead, Workforce and Training Services, at Rockwell Automation tells AMS how automotive companies can prepare for a digitally connected era – and the arrival of the millennial generationJoanne Perry (JP): Can you explain what OEMs normally ask Rockwell to do as a training provider?Brian Fortney (BF): If they’re thinking about workforce development in the right vein, they ask Rockwell to create training that is relatable, and easy to apply and deliver to their workforce. And they come into that with a true understanding that they have both a changing workforce and multiple changing technology patterns. Automakers more than any other [type of] manufacturer in North America understand [that] the changing dynamics of their workforce, married with the accelerating adoption of new technologies for manufacturing, presents a huge opportunity. I want to clarify [that] what we’re asked for is not always what a customer will choose to invest in, but the ‘ask’ is consistently: comprehensive, multi-system, customer-specific workforce competency.
JP: By “changing dynamics”, do you mean demographic changes such as an ageing workforce?BF: I think you have two forces colliding. You have the ageing workforce that potentially has the eye on the door – they’ve put in their 25, 30, 35 years – and you [also] have this new workforce with a completely different mindset and some very unique benefits to the labour market as a whole. Think about the benefits that the millennials, Gen X [and] Gen Y bring. They’re incredibly fluid in technology adoption but also fluid in technology change. It doesn’t really matter to this group whether or not they’re using an iPhone, a tablet [or] a Droid. The platform and their adoption of it stays consistent – whereas a more ageing workforce is concerned about being able to manage the difference between an iPhone and a Droid.
JP: What has Rockwell’s response been to these changes?BF: It’s been two-fold, because manufacturing as a whole is not always early in the cycle of adoption. One of our top 20 most popular classes in fiscal year 2016 was PLC 5 Maintenance and Troubleshooting. This is a technology that was developed and released essentially in 1986. We still have to support the technicians who are manufacturing in that market, but we’ve also seen in our top 20 classes IMINS and IMINS 2. These are our partnerships with Cisco and at the leading edge of where converged operation and information technology is going. So within our top 20 classes you see both ends of the spectrum and what we as a company are doing is serving both markets and making it easy for our manufacturers and their workforces to attain the training on the technology that they use each and every day.
“The way training is delivered will evolve. There will be more of it but it may be in smaller chunks; it may be delivered in different voices and styles than what we have seen in the past” – Brian Fortney, Rockwell
JP: Do automotive suppliers have different requirements from those of vehicle-makers?BF: I think the macro trends in the workforce exist for all organisations and you can apply that even more broadly to say, for the first time possibly in history, [that] a paper mill has the same challenges as an automaker or tier-one supplier. Where I think the differentiation comes is in the specialisation of application, and the ability to fund and develop talent. Automakers are unique in their scale, that they can develop and deliver the most customised workforce development programmes and do so in a train-the-trainer model. Many other types of manufacturer don’t have the scale of workforce to be able to cost-effectively execute on a programme like that.
JP: Is train-the-trainer the standard method or are there other options?BF: There’s a multitude of options that you can do. The train-the-trainer model is a strong strategic play if you have the capabilities and willingness to develop the skills to train others within your team. So by that I mean, what thought process do you give to developing a trainer? If you’re looking to develop a trainer, ask them what they do in their off hours. If candidate A tends to remain in their basement [and] build up model trains on T-scale, they’re probably a great technician; if candidate B coaches their children’s local softball league, you choose candidate B – all the time. Because training isn’t about having encyclopaedic technical knowledge – that’s always good, but it’s about having the ability to communicate and transfer that knowledge effectively. You have to look at your selection process and your talent pool to be able to execute that.
You also have to look at the time that an automaker or supplier has to become operational on a new system or technology. If they have a short cycle to achieve this training, a train-the-trainer programme may not be the correct way to go. They may need to look at having Rockwell coming in to provide that training. We have seen one global manufacturer in path A with train-the-trainer, we’ve seen another do it in path B, having our instructors onsite essentially 24 hours a day for 12 weeks.JP: Which job types are served by Rockwell’s training programmes?BF: We have programmes where what started with electricians is expanded into robot techs in the paintshop [and] we have programmes that serve the mechanical base. We are seeing an increased demand on programmes that help to transfer the skillset between electricians and mechanics as multi-skill becomes a requirement for many environments.
We also offer soft skills training. We have an entirely different workforce [now] stepping into these roles. If you’ve ever stood at the end of an automotive line that has ground a halt, it is not the most genteel place you may ever find yourself. And millennials coming in have not faced that type of episodic criticism, the type of intense conversation that occurs in those moments and they can freeze – it happens. We are now looking at how do we help them to communicate with clarity, how do we help provide training on feedback, delegation, things like that.
My grandfather in the late ‘20s stepped out of West Virginia to come to Goodyear – an opportunity to be in the rubber shops rather than in the mines. He did not have the mindset of “why are you yelling at me?” or “this isn’t my fault, what do you want me to do?”. He had the mindset of “we just get it done”. And helping to instil that while helping to build a culture that reflects these differences within the workforce is critical to the long-term success of any organisation, not just automotive.
JP: Does the trend among carmakers towards globalisation of production mean globalisation of training?BF: I think that it means the globalisation of training but there is not a definition of what that globalisation means. We’ve taken programmes from Detroit to Sanand, India, to San Luis Potosí, Mexico, to Romania – we’ve taken programmes throughout the world. Globalisation means different things; does it mean translation, does it mean an exact match to the initial architecture? I think the global training transformation clearly involves core tenets but with the flexibility to meet the local market requirements.
JP: It seems that younger workers will be well-suited to changes in the industry like the 4.0 revolution. Will this reduce training requirements?BF: I think the needs only increase. You have this workforce that is engaged in the digital space – embedded within the digital space, to be quite frank. But they’re embedded in their own personal digital space – [with] the rise of social media. You have to have more training because the tactics and the decisions that ensure a safe and reliable manufacturing network run in conflict to the tactics of an embedded digital individual. If you think about how you grow from strategic advantage, especially in the automotive space, you have to grow from a unique usage of technology – on the consumer or manufacturing side – and that’s something that you have to protect while you continue to develop it. You have the millennials coming in where their entire digital mantra is essentially share – share everything!
“Training isn’t about having encyclopaedic technical knowledge, it’s about having the ability to communicate and transfer that knowledge effectively” – Brian Fortney, Rockwell
More training will be needed because we have to change in some ways their mindset and their usage and consumption of digital technology. But the way training is delivered will evolve. There will be more of it but it may be in smaller chunks, in a pattern; it may be delivered in different modalities to support that audience. It may be delivered in different voices and styles than what we have seen in the past, ie training is “you must do this – warning, warning, warning!”. Training now for that audience will be much more collaborative: “here’s how we win together when we do this”. It’s a shift in the delivery styles but no reduction in the volume needed.
JP: It sounds like there will be a lot of opportunities but also some difficulties to overcome.BF: This is a really fun time to be in this space. Because everywhere I go – to a multitude of facilities and different industries, not just automotive – [I] hear this unified challenge. It almost can be summed up as: the greatest enemy of North American manufacturing is not foreign competition, it’s the high-school counsellor. How do we develop and grow a population that desires these jobs? There is nowhere I travel in this nation [the US] that I hear “there are too many candidates for me to hire”. I hear the same story: “we can’t find the skillset we need”.