Digitalization in manufacturing and the critical skills for success
The global effect of disruptive technology has brought huge productivity improvements in manufacturing. The changing and differentiated demands of customers push the industry to improve production in the Industry 4.0 concept and increased knowledge in data science has made data analytics possible and more meaningful. Because of this, there is an urgency in manufacturing companies to change their technology and especially their knowledge, and in turn, their workforce skills to stay competitive. So, what does digitalization mean to manufacturing organizations and what kinds of leaders are required to help organizations to take this step? Our colleagues in the industry have exchanged thoughts on finding and retaining talent in the digital age and what companies are looking for in terms of hard and soft skills.

For Michael Kantel (Kestria Germany), it's a big challenge to identify the right environment to contribute executive search services and then have a link to organizations and decision-makers to make them understand that the right talents can be provided if given a framework to do so. ‘We currently have a global demographic effect where people with expertise are retiring and taking their expertise with them. We hear buzzwords such as digitalization, Big Data, data analytics, predictive maintenance, connection, sensors and automation technologies,  and are challenged by clients to find the next generation of leaders to navigate the transformation process.

There is a huge demand on experts and leaders in the digital industry, with clients looking for experts with deep knowledge in specific areas. We need experts with hardware and software skills, connecting devices, machines, with a big demand for data scientists, to really understand how to deal with big data. The question for clients is how to attract and recruit these experts and leaders as well as how to retain them upon hiring.’

Steve McKinney (Kestria South Korea) believes that digitalization in manufacturing can touch just about any area but particularly back office and supply chain applications, factory automation, and data analytics, which is one of the biggest areas. ‘Connectivity is definitely the future and to fully optimize manufacturing output in processes, manufacturers have to take all this data and make it smarter, faster and easier. For example, in a large hospital in Seoul, they're almost completely paperless. Using phone software, a code is used at stations you visit where your information can be called up by your doctor, as can readings of x-rays, CT, etc. So that connectivity of being smarter and trying to minimize the work is the direction that more manufacturers are going to go which leads us to the people that they hire.

Now, instead of basic computer skills, you need to be able to understand data and information and know what to do with it. So, connectivity is the key to getting what we need, as fast as we need it, to those that need it the most. 

I think the challenge is that digital evolution has the potential to disrupt every part of enterprise. And I think the opportunity is for leaders to identify a clear vision and share that vision with all employees and stakeholders internally and externally to help meet those objectives.’

Gary Saenger (Kestria USA: Saenger Associates) is experiencing clients being very selective along 3 areas of focus. Size matters, i.e., a candidate’s background is preferred to be equal to or larger in company scope than the client.  The number of facilities and geographic dispersion are key in meeting and exceeding a client’s need. 

Succession planning is huge with most of our senior and executive search projects. Outward-facing executives are in high demand. If the client cannot view the candidate at two or more levels in their organization, “PASS” is the usual result. Many progressive and technologically advanced companies are targeting even more progressive backgrounds from target companies and narrowly defined industry verticals.

Finally, clients are being selective as to who is included on the selection and interview panels. High-potential individuals, regardless of levels on an organization chart, are often tapped for the important panels. Strategic views are a must. Speeding up the selection process is a constant for us due to the high level of competition for great talent!

It’s all about the data 

For Cees Hagoort (Kestria Netherlands) the right data collection and the speed of obtaining it is a huge challenge for companies. ‘All companies are data-driven nowadays. Data interpretation and making them work for you, that’s how companies can make a difference. Younger leaders are often more agile to work with data and turn them into product and service innovations. The more senior C-level leaders who acknowledge this will seek their support to build future-proof strategies and winning teams, whether in manufacturing or any other industry. Executive search consultants need to understand the specific challenges that a client is facing and will guide clients through the process of finding the right leadership to face these challenges.’

Per Michelle Bedford-Shaw (Kestria South Africa & USA) each organization has a different understanding of digitalization and how it impacts them and how it impacts not just internal processes teams but externally the customer as well. Even relatable industries are talking about something completely different in terms of what they want people to have done or achieved. ‘There are a couple of global organizations that are not talking about skills, but culture. How are they going to create that employee value proposition that's going to ensure they can retain the specialist skill, whether it be developers or big data analytics, specialist data scientists, they know they need to adjust. Consultants are also hearing words like agility, to think differently but also to influence.

I think if we're talking about our clients, the challenge is there is no one size fits all. We are talking to so many different people every single day and I think for clients there is an amazing opportunity to really learn from what we're experiencing in candidates every day and then leverage that into their business.’

Gurdeep Hora (Kestria India) asserts that the real game changer happens when digital technology becomes the central point and is implemented in all processes of a manufacturing operation. ‘This enhances organizational agility to react to deviations by online, in-time collection of data, anticipation of the likely impact and thus initiate differential changes in quality and manufacturing operations. The most important aspect of this development is a rapid collaboration between individuals with diverse skills, talent, and expertise. Digital, development and manufacturing experts are interacting in real-time to introduce preventive steps and corrective remedies. So real-time data analytics and the ability to influence processes have become critical.

Organizations are rapidly implementing and integrating digital practices with production. This has led to a higher level of anxiety surrounding automation and AI among middle-level managers. They're not sure how long they can last and what they must do to grow in their organizations. So, today a key and incredibly important new factor is the fluency of an organization in addressing these concerns and ensuring that the employees become capable of engaging and communicating within this dynamic climate for change.’

Monicca Yan (Kestria China & Singapore) claims that within the Asia-Pacific region in production site digitalization, factory automation is not a new thing. Therefore, the main change would be automation and digitalization; with less reliance on physical labour by moving to lower-cost production countries. ‘The pandemic has been a catalyst in the adoption of technology to get work done more effectively and efficiently. This has a big impact on culture, people and processes. Companies are becoming more and more data-driven in their decision-making processes as opposed to being sales or product-driven. 

This change requires leaders to acquire new skills and be able to build new competencies within the organization. Investment in technology and people has become a key element for organizational growth.’

Translating company needs to a good candidate

Aubai Eliwy (Kestria Malaysia) is seeing multiple leading roles with varying job scopes and requirements. ‘For example, one client may require three principle candidates with expertise to cover machine breakdown, maintenance, and prediction of any breakdowns, all of which require a different skill set. There are differences in terms of industry and digitalization and currently, it depends on where a company is. So even multinationals that handle traditional industries are in the middle or at the beginning of digitization. What this means in terms of recruitment is that the needs of companies also vary, as can what digitalization means to them.’

For Carlos Acosta (Kestria Mexico & USA) the key is finding a skill set that is diverse and unique. ‘Now we have concepts like daily management and tier management among levels within the organization. Matrix organizations are more focused on collaboration and managing data in real-time which is a lot of information to manage. I pay attention to how developed my client is in terms of processes and how technologically advanced their organization is, how communication flows and what the leadership expectations on that front are. So as a recruiter, you have to adjust to whom you're speaking with. You have to look at talent management from the point of view of the professional, the candidate, and reverse engineer their experience. You have to adjust, and there's an opportunity to educate clients and bring them up to date on what other industries are doing.’

Key learnings

It’s clear that the digitalization landscape is in need of a broad scope of expertise which starts with a clear vision and careful planning. Good data science and data management are very key to building this landscape, with every company having individual needs and requiring a different approach. 

Kestria provides a comprehensive search approach to find leaders for the manufacturing sector who are technologically savvy and possess the ability to help organizations grow. Our success is achieved through communication and engagement with clients, and we constantly refine and evolve our strategies, methodologies, and processes to deliver the relevant talent solution.

Don‘t miss new insights from Kestria Institute

Elevate leadership: Kestria Institute unveils executive excellence and insights.

Related insights
May 15, 2024 10 min
Oct. 25, 2023 4 min
Nov. 16, 2022 5 min
Nov. 18, 2021 3 min
Discover more thoughts in Kestria Institute
We value your privacy

By selecting “Accept all”, you give your consent to our use of cookies. These cookies and data are essential for the smooth functioning of our website. For detailed information about the cookies we use, their purposes, and our partners, please click “Manage cookies”. Here, you can also customize your preferences, and modify or withdraw your consent at any time. Learn more.