Survey: Frontline manufacturing workers want connected digital tools, but many lack access

March 22, 2021
New Parsable report, "The State of Digital and Connected Work on the Manufacturing Frontlines," examines the state of digital access and connectivity in the manufacturing industry, from the perspective of frontline factory workers.

SAN FRANCISCO  (March 18, 2021; Parsable release) — The majority of U.S. frontline manufacturing workers (72%) have no concerns using mobile software and apps in order to do their jobs better; however, fewer than half report having mobile technology on the factory floor to help them work more efficiently, according to the results of a new survey conducted by Parsable, the Connected Worker Platform company. 

Parsable recently released a new research report, "The State of Digital and Connected Work on the Manufacturing Frontlines," which examines the state of digital access and connectivity in the manufacturing industry, from the perspective of its frontline factory workers. 

The company surveyed 1,168 U.S.-based frontline manufacturing workers to understand the technologies they are being given to help them do their jobs, gauge overall sentiment on using digital tools in the workplace, and identify generational differences in attitudes toward technology and company loyalty.

Key findings

More than half of respondents said the opportunity to work in a more modern, digital environment would be part of their decision to leave their current employer. Among digital-native Millennials and Generation Z, 56% have been in their current manufacturing job for less than two years; many intend to move on to a different employer within two years.

While most respondents had a clear preference for a more technology-forward way of working, a significant majority reported primarily relying on paper-based documentation to follow work instructions and/or track their work; 22% said leaving notes on paper was a common way to communicate with other team members.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that although advanced automation has modernized many aspects of today's factories, frontline workers remain at the core of manufacturing operations and production. Having paper-based work instructions and processes not only limits the ability of today’s manufacturing employees to work, collaborate and learn in a more efficient way, it also limits a company's ability to gather accurate data on what's happening on the factory floor. At a time when unexpected, fast-changing safety or production conditions require manufacturers to be more agile than ever before, this lack of visibility can have major bottom-line consequences.

"Agility has become the number one priority for manufacturers as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, but that can't be achieved unless frontline workers are given the right digital tools to help them work more efficiently and safely," said Lawrence Whittle, Parsable CEO. 

"Parsable's new research uncovers both the challenges and opportunities that companies have in ensuring their frontline workforce is supported, empowered and, most importantly, connected," he continued. "With increasing competition and pressures on so many fronts, including the loss of tacit knowledge as retirement accelerates within the industry, manufacturers can't afford to delay delivering the right technologies to the workers who are at the core of the business."

Other findings from the Parsable survey

  • Frontline workers want access to digital technology to best perform in their jobs: Thirty-two percent of respondents said text messaging or online chat to communicate with colleagues/report issues was the most important type of digital tool that would help them work better.
  • Companies that don’t close the digital gap risk losing frontline talent: Thirty percent of respondents said management does not listen to recommendations that employees make for workplace improvements; nearly half (49%) said their employers have not provided any digital tools to help them stay safer at work.
  • Management is missing opportunities to digitally empower frontline workers: Sixteen percent of respondents said they have never used digital tools, such as software or apps, to help them do their jobs better. 

For more data and to download the complete report, "The State of Digital and Connected Work on the Manufacturing Frontlines." 

Parsable conducted the online survey between Dec. 1-20, 2020. The 1,168 U.S. respondents who completed the survey reported being currently employed in manufacturing, with a hands-on, non-managerial job in production, operations, maintenance or EHS (environment, health and safety).

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