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Why Digital Tools are Key in Workforce Development and Retention

Facility managers can put themselves in the best position to overcome the skilled labor shortage by ensuring their organizations use the best technology to streamline daily tasks.

By Jon Hart, contributing writer  

The skilled labor shortage is one of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. economy today. To fortify their workforce and remain as resilient as possible, organizations need to be able to effectively recruit, onboard, train, and retain employees — especially Millennial and Gen Z employees. But before we can identify how, we need to look at some of the drivers behind this shortage.  

Where did today’s labor shortage stem from? The answer is multi-faceted. The pandemic exacerbated the problem, yes, but a marked lack of skilled labor predates COVID. Many trace the origin to the 2008 Recession, where the construction industry, for example, lost approximately 1.5 million jobs that it has yet to fully recoup. The manufacturing industry, too, took a hard hit due to the Recession, with an estimated 1.4 million jobs disappearing between 2007 and 2014.   

One could also rightfully point to education and misconceptions around trade jobs as a key driver in prolonged labor shortages. Across the country, we’re seeing shop and mechanical classes become less prominent, thus cutting off the pipeline. The lack of exposure and proper education around trade career has also proliferated many misconceptions about the industry.  

Myth Busting 

One key misconception stands out above the rest: Stanley Black & Decker’s 2022 Makers Index found that 23 percent of young people don’t believe that skilled tradespeople work with cutting edge technology. Those beliefs are in contrast with reality, however: that same survey found that 89 percent of skilled workers report they do indeed work with cutting edge technology.  

The takeaway here is clear: Organizations need to not only embrace digital transformation in the first place, but also leverage it as a key driver in employee recruitment and retention. In a crowded job market where employers seek to resonate with younger talent, the use of emerging digital tools can serve as a key differentiator. Implementing digital tools helps to not only train newer employees and bridge the skills gap, but also create more innovative, collaborative, and efficient work environments that attract and retain newer generations as older ones retire. 

Driving Technological Efficiencies 

As digital-first generations, Millennials and Gen Z crave technology-powered efficiency. Few things are more frustrating than having to go through an outdated process with the knowledge that there are far more tech-savvy options available. Therefore, it’s important that organizations invest in the newest technology to streamline daily tasks, thus empowering employees of all ages and experience levels to be as efficient and accurate as possible.  

This can happen in a number of ways and can be as simple as how employees access fire and life safety codes and standards. Without digital tools, employees need to have the correct physical code books on hand, and finding a specific code can be time-consuming. With new digital platforms that house all codes and standards, employees can access every publication, including prior editions, right from their mobile device. They can then use search features to quickly find what they’re looking for, bookmark the content for later, or send it to a colleague to review.  

Digital tools also enable more streamlined collaboration among teams. Take the building design and construction process as an example. Building designs may look perfect on paper, but as multiple trades come onto the site to install equipment, piping, wiring, etc., slight modifications can have a ripple effect on other trades. A fire protection contractor might enter a building to find that the electrician already hung the lights, and now the sprinkler will be too close to the lighting fixture to be compliant, or the sprinkler must be installed at a different spacing greater than what is permitted.   

In these instances when the as-built condition is different than the planned condition, contractors can easily pull up sections of code on any device to review in-person or send via email. From there, they can confirm they’re looking at the same section of code and determine a plan forward. This same coordination can also take place with authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) during inspections, or any time multiple parties need to sit down and flesh out their respective interpretations of specific codes and standards. Digitizing this process helps reduce miscommunication, resolve disagreements faster and complete projects quicker. These efficiencies are paramount in attracting and retaining talent in today’s digital age.  

Leveraging Digital Tools 

The Great Retirement among U.S. workers is another key contributor to widespread labor shortages. With 75 million Baby Boomers retiring by 2030, the Great Retirement is on course to supersede the Great Resignation as the most significant workforce trend of 2022. Retirement rates are especially pertinent to the trade industry today, as the workforce tends to be older. The average construction worker, for example, is 41 years old. In the facilities world, 23 percent of facility mangers have worked in the field for more than 20 years.  

Among this mass retirement of industry veterans, the challenge is ensuring their generational wisdom doesn’t leave their organizations when they do. Luckily, digital tools are instrumental in retaining institutional knowledge. With digital, collaborative hubs for codes and standards, experienced employees can easily leave notes within the code, bookmark those notes, and create curated collections of knowledge that are easily shared across teams. Creating future-proofed digital trails helps democratize years of expertise so that young or new employees can get up to speed quicker.  

Technology also aids in employee training by providing videos, interactive modules, industry-specific content, situational content, and more anywhere at any time. Plus, off-the-page learning is great for younger generations who have grown up getting their information online.   

Amid labor shortages and growing retirement rates, it’s more important than ever for trade organizations to efficiently recruit, onboard, and retain employees. By embracing digital transformation and its emerging tools, organizations can better train employees and drive organization-wide efficiency and collaboration. Moving forward, digitization will be key in establishing resiliency amid staffing shortages.  

Jon Hart is the Technical Lead for fire protection engineering and a principal engineer for the NFPA. In this role he is responsible for technical direction and content development for all NFPA product offerings involving fire protection engineering, including sprinklers, fire pumps, and fire alarms. 

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  posted on 10/12/2022   Article Use Policy

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