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Industry 4.0 Work Instructions

Training for the New Normal: Reskilling During COVID-19

5 min read

reskilling covid

Future proof and build resilience. Flexible reskilling helps manufacturers effectively adapt to new ways of working during, and after, the COVID-19 crisis.

We’ve been talking about reskilling in manufacturing for years now. 

Automation and digitization are an essential part of progress and a hallmark of the current industrial revolution. The efficiency and instantaneous response of new digital solutions, combined with new opportunities for global connectedness, mean that manufacturers are poised to produce at unprecedented rates. But they also need to enhance and reimagine the skill sets of human workers at the same pace.

Most of the world’s successful manufacturers have reskilling - and the digital tools that facilitate the process - as part of their digital road map.

But what we didn’t expect was a global pandemic that would fundamentally change the way that we approach work on the factory floor and beyond. The hard truth is that many manufacturers are exposed to fallout from this crisis - and must take extra steps to protect their deskless workforce.

As the top manufacturing companies work towards rebounding and strengthening in a post-COVID 19 world, we’re finding that new methods of reskilling have become more important than ever.



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The new normal.

There are a number of ways in which COVID-19 has forced manufacturers to adapt their way of working. Many of these changes impact daily work and skill sets on the shop floor. 


Capacity of the deskless workforce. 

As manufacturers around the world feel the impact of the corona pandemic, many are forced to cut budgets and let workers go in order to protect their bottom line. Not only does this reduce the capacity and effectiveness of the manufacturing workforce, but it also fundamentally alters the structure of the remaining teams on the shop floor.


New processes and procedures.

With fewer workers available, the remaining teams are a left to pick up the slack. This means adapting to an increased workload as well as adjusting to duties outside of the normal scope of work. Teams performing new tasks need to be trained and continuously supported as they fill new roles, or risk errors and lags that will further impact profits and productivity.



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Harmony with new products and output.

We’re proud to see manufacturers all over the world pivot their production facilities to produce goods that help fight the spread of COVID-19. However, this also means that teams on the shop floors are facing additional pressure to quickly master new roles and operate different machinery during their daily work. 


Increased automation.

This industry is affected so dramatically because the bulk of the work must be performed in person. Manufacturers thus must take stringent precautions to protect their workforce, and get creative with measures to limit human contact and interaction on the shop floor. We see several manufacturers adapting their processes to involve more automation and robotic support. 


What do each of the above have in common?


Each fundamentally impacts daily work for teams on the shop floor. They require a change to routines, procedures, and represent an overhaul of the skills profiles within a manufacturing workforce. 

Success in a post-COVID world depends on agility and flexibility, especially as it applies to reskilling.

Reskilling - the act of adapting existing workers to new knowledge and processes - can directly and positively impact any manufacturer’s ability to adapt to new and difficult circumstances.



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In the past, this process has presented a daunting challenge to manufacturers. Teaching a workforce a wide range of new skills meant lengthy periods of time spent in the classroom along with continuous in-person support during daily work. 

But what if reskilling could be as flexible and informed as the rest of Industry 4.0? New tools allow manufacturers to identify needs and retrain workers with an ecosystem of digital solutions.


Below, we’ve listed some practical ways to leverage new tools to facilitate reskilling and address many of the challenges listed above.



factory safety covid



Build an understanding of existing skills.

Before any reskilling can begin we need to know which skills need to be developed, and when. This includes existing processes, but also mapping out the individual tasks and skills of new activities in your organization. This process lets lets manufacturers approach reskilling efforts in the most efficient and effective manner.



skills managementImage source: AG5



This means: 

  • Defining all tasks and related skills on the shop floor through task analysis. This is an important step when responsibilities change to facilitate new processes. Task analysis is especially critical in these times, as roles and procedures change quickly.

  • Determining who on your team has the necessary skills to perform which jobs, and who needs more training and support. In the past, manufacturers have used paper and excel-based systems. Digital solutions such as AG5 make this a more flexible process that is able to cope to changing circumstances in real time.


For an in-depth look at closing the manufacturing skills gap through better skills management, check here and here.

Reskilling to close the immediate skills gap.

As teams on the shop floor pivot to perform new work and pick up the slack in an immediate skills gap, training needs to be delivered in a proactive and intelligent way. 


Knowledge in the moment of need. 

During the education and training process integral to reskilling, learners will need to frequently access procedural information and reference materials related to new processes and procedures. In the past, this was located in cumbersome paper manuals and PDFs. 

Tools such as digital work instructions take the knowledge out of the binder and streamline the production of (and access to) relevant work instructions. Collaborative editing and instant distribution reduces authoring times and decreases the time it takes to start working effectively.



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Learning by doing.

We learn new skills better if we can perform the action at the same time that we receive the instruction. This has been the theory behind successful on-the-job training since lean manufacturing was pioneered in the mid-20th century.

Digital work instructions remove the need for a human instructor to be present during a trainee’s learning-by-doing efforts and thus make the process more cost effective and efficient. 

Learning-by-doing also helps counteract the knowledge loss that plagues traditional classroom learning. In a high stakes environment such as manufacturing, this helps protect manufacturers from expensive human error.



on-the-job learning



Skills assessment and skills management.

A partnership between digital work instructions and skills management software allows supervisors to both monitor and intervene in the reskilling process. Through the task analysis efforts mentioned above, supervisors gain a comprehensive understanding of which skills a team needs to still develop, and can push relevant content on an as-needed basis.

Upon completion of the relevant training, this data can be added to an employee's skills portfolio, and progress can then be managed from a holistic viewpoint. This skills portfolio can be used to assign competent workers to new processes and procedures as they arise, empowering increased flexibility and visibility in staffing.



reskilling covidImage source: AG5



Improve with data and feedback.

Accurate analytics and usage data give manufacturers the ability to track trends and respond to bottlenecks in an agile and proactive manner. During these unpredictable times, the ability to make corrections as-needed is essential to an efficient and agile way of working.



reskilling analytics


Better work looking forward.

Success is about more than just coping. 

During the COVID 19 crisis, manufacturers must adopt measures that help mitigate the immediate detrimental effects. But we also see many innovative companies using this moment as an opportunity to implement scalable solutions that continue to make a positive impact long after the immediate crisis is over.

The same reskilling principles that allow us to develop resiliency during hard times can also help manufacturers stay flexible and agile during times of prosperity. The manufacturing skills gap is present and growing, and will only continue to make an impact as we embark on the next industrial revolution. 

published on July 8, 2020


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