Digital Learning Skyrockets as High-Growth Industries Invest in Top Talent

Hit hard by ongoing worker shortages, high-growth industries are fighting back with pioneering training and development strategies that portend a sea of change in employee learning.

A prime example is aerospace and defense (A&D), where innovations like air taxis and space travel herald a new era. Industrial manufacturing is equally exciting as manufacturing revs up to localize production in many countries.

“Companies must prioritize ongoing development to address the significant shift in how employees expect to work and what they expect from their employers,” said Jill Popelka, president of SAP SuccessFactors. “By building a culture of lifelong learning, companies set themselves – and their employees – up for success. Individuals can develop the skills they want and need to build a career that is personally fulfilling. And companies can build an agile and adaptable workforce that can overcome ongoing change.”

Digital Learning Platforms Are the Future for Manufacturers

Leaders in A&D and industrial manufacturing have an aging workforce, many of whom opted for retirement during the pandemic. A&D stalwarts are up against a bevy of startups, especially in the latest space exploration sectors where many have gone public. Similarly, industrial manufacturing doesn’t captivate recent graduates the way startups exploring net new innovations can. Younger engineers are drawn to more nimble startups where they have the freedom to assume greater responsibilities on exciting projects. To build and maintain a qualified, diverse workforce in this market, companies are turning to centralized digital learning platforms.

“Siloed information is one of the biggest challenges in the A&D manufacturing industry,” said Torsten Welte, global vice president and head of A&D Industries at SAP. “SAP SuccessFactors Work Zone dynamically connects content from numerous applications in systems across the organization. The employee can track project performance and quality, collaborating with others to share ideas and make improvements, which they can apply individually and team-wide. Training and skills development is embedded in everyday activities while the platform tracks and monitors appropriate certifications and renewals.”

Industrial Manufacturing Retools Employee Development

In some countries, midsize manufacturers are expanding local production facilities as a hedge against disrupted supply chains. Sparked by the pandemic, these changes are having a far-flung impact on talent recruitment and career development.

“Midsize companies are often located in spacious, but remote areas less attractive to people early in their careers,” said Patrick Lamm, senior director of Industrial Manufacturing at SAP. “They lack the brand cache of well-known large players but are actually hidden champions and market leaders in their niche area. Many are actively recruiting from local universities and also starting their own local academies to upskill existing workers, providing them with a career path to move up and explore new technologies aligned to their digital transformation.”

On-the-Job Training Innovations for Agility

Some A&D and industrial manufacturing companies are bringing in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to train and upskill employees. Digital simulations reduce airplane design cycles, dramatically increasing the pace of new release improvements. At one global A&D manufacturer, the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) with VR transformed airplane service and maintenance quality control, with self-directed learning modules at the point of fix and assembly.

“In-the-moment, ongoing learning guides workers so they can confidently meet the highest quality control standards. This is extremely important in highly regulated industries,” said Welte. “Companies are also using SAP 3D Visual Enterprise, which provides step-by-step, 3D product assembly models using digital twins. Digital instructions and training speed up individualized skill development, especially for new workers who might get more overwhelmed.”

Electronic work instructions using digital twins are particularly effective in keeping workers updated on fast-changing design elements. An industrial connectivity company brought intelligent data to mobile devices on the factory floor, reducing downtime by up to 50%, boosting knowledge sharing between employees, and improving worker engagement.

“As soon as development engineers release changes, it can be reflected in the electronic assembly instructions seamlessly,” said Lamm. “There’s no gap between design innovation and execution on the factory floor. Companies can upskill frontline workers for business agility.”

Digital Transformation Requires New Learning Options

Digital training and development extends manufacturing operations to aftermarket services post-delivery and installation of equipment and machines. One automaker reduced field service calls by 20% using smart glasses that provided guidance and instructions in real time with integrated visualization tools.

“Remote service is on the rise, allowing service technicians to log on and conduct maintenance and repair,” said Lamm. “With digital work instructions, it’s easier to train people faster on self-service, anywhere, at their convenience, including mobile apps and videos. You should start small, piloting digital learning projects first, then scale up across teams based on those experiences.”

Continuous, career-long learning is part of the workforce-centered strategy of every agile business. It’s just as flexible and dynamic as the digital transformation of high-growth industries worldwide.


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This also appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.