Time for more sustainable practices in manufacturing
The UK is the ninth largest manufacturer in th...
Phil Chambers, CEO and co-founder at Peakon, discusses the need for sustainable manufacturing processes.
The UK is the ninth largest manufacturer in the world, with the sector employing more than 2.7 million people. However, UK manufacturers have been grappling with a skills shortage in recent years. As of 2019, 81% of manufacturers were reporting difficulties finding people, according to a survey conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce.
If organisations in the sector want to position themselves as employers of choice, and attract the highest skilled talent, they need to demonstrate that they share in the values, and understand the expectations and concerns of their current and prospective employees. While Covid-19 is currently front of mind for most employees, our research indicates that these other, long-term expectations and concerns still exist among employees – and should not be ignored.
Earlier this year, we observed a growing number of manufacturing workers were raising the topic of climate change and sustainability with their employers in their Peakon surveys. An analysis of over 14 million employee comments from across 160 countries revealed a huge 595% spike in climate-related comments from employees in the manufacturing sector in 2019. This jump – almost six times steeper than any other industry – meant that manufacturing workers went from being among the least vocal on this issue, to among the most vocal in the space of a year.
Employees want leaders to take action
Employees from around the world, and across all industries, were more concerned about sustainability and the environment in 2019 than they were in 2018, our study found.
Comments on environmental issues increased by 85% among UK employees in 2019, and 52% globally. The most prevalent words in these comments included: ‘Plastic’, ‘single-use’ and ‘carbon footprint’.
Generation Z employees – the workplace’s youngest members – led the discussion; there was a 128% surge in climate-related comments from this generation in 2019. However, there were also strong year-on-year increases among Millennials and Baby Boomers – 62% and 59% respectively. The uplift indicates a shift in priorities among people of all ages.
It’s imperative that business leaders recognise this. As companies worldwide come under pressure to reduce emissions and introduce more ethical practices, the uptick in employee concern is telling. It reveals a growing desire to work for organisations that demonstrate a duty of care for the environment. This is perhaps a point of even greater sensitivity for employees in the manufacturing sector, which is still shaking off its tough, industrial image.
A way forward
The manufacturing sector must engage in a continuous dialogue with employees if it is to properly understand and address the concerns and expectations of its current and future workers. A failure to address employee concerns leading toward a greener planet will only result in frustration and disengagement. In the worst case scenario, employees might look for employment elsewhere.
To address the current climate, companies must:
Be communicative: It’s important to establish a two-way conversation with the workforce. This will help organisations to create shared goals – that all parties are keen to see tackled. This can boost employee buy-in and engagement.
Be responsive: The manufacturing sector may not have all the answers for how to best address this global issue. However, responding to employee feedback and being clear on what steps are being taken will ensure that all stakeholders feel heard and valued.
Be transparent: Being open and honest with employees on your practices and progress will help establish trust. Let your employees know what the company is aiming to achieve, how it is planning to achieve it, and when by.
In 2020 and beyond, organisational positioning on social and environmental issues will become an increasingly important yardstick by which businesses are measured. This will influence both consumer and employee perception of a business. Today’s businesses need to understand that every employee is also the consumer with an increasing awareness and care for the environment, and the planet.
Professionals seek out and opt to work for organisations that have clear values and strategy to minimise their environmental footprint. Organisations that ignore the growing appetite for environmentally conscious businesses risk struggling to retain and attract top talent, and may find it harder to bounce back when the Covid-19 crisis is over.
For more information on manufacturing topics - please take a look at the latest edition of Manufacturing Global.
Fluent.ai x BSH: Voice Automating the Assembly Line
Fluent.ai has deployed its voice recognition solutions in one of BSH’s German factories. BSH leads the market in producing connected appliances—its brands include Bosch, Siemens, Gaggenau, NEFF, and Thermador, and with this new partnership, the company intends to cut transition time in its assembly lines.
According to BSH, voice automation will yield 75-100% efficiency gains—but it’s the collaboration between the two companies that stands out. ‘After considering 11 companies for this partnership, we chose Fluent.ai because of their key competitive differentiators’, explained Ion Hauer, Venture Partner at BSH Startup Kitchen.
What Sets Fluent.ai Apart?
After seven years of research, the company developed a wide range of artificial intelligence (AI) software products to help original equipment manufacturers (OEM) expand their services. Three key aspects stood out to BSH, which operates across the world and in unique factory environments.
- Robust noise controls. The system can operate even in loud conditions.
- Low latency. The AI understands commands quickly and accurately.
- Multilingual support. BSH can expand the automation to any of its 50+ country operations.
How Voice Automation Works
Instead of pressing buttons, BSH factory workers will now be able to speak into a headset fitted with Fluent.ai’s voice recognition technology. After uttering a WakeWord, workers can use a command to start assembly line movement. As the technology is hands-free, workers benefit from less physical strain, which will both reduce employee fatigue and boost line production.
‘Implementing Fluent’s technology has already improved efficiencies within our factory, with initial implementation of the solution cutting down the transition time from four seconds to one and a half”, said Markus Maier, Project Lead at the BSH factory. ‘In the long run, the production time savings will be invaluable’.
Future Global Adoption
In the coming years, BSH and Fluent.ai will continue to push for artificial intelligence on factory lines, pursuing efficiency, ergonomics, and a healthy work environment. ‘We started with Fluent.ai on one factory assembly line, moved to three, and [are now] considering rolling the technology out worldwide’, said Maier.
Said Probal Lala, Fluent.ai’s CEO: ‘We are thrilled to be working with BSH, a company at the forefront of innovation. Seeing your solution out in the real world is incredibly rewarding, and we look forward to continuing and growing our collaboration’.