Today, all organizations are intensely occupied with digital transformation occupying to at least some degree, and one may assume that it has thus already reached all company areas. However, this is not the case: the debate about digital transformation and New Work is almost exclusively conducted from the perspective of white-collar employees. But what about production areas? Where does this leave blue-collar employees? Are they not also affected by the change – maybe even more than desk and knowledge workers? And doesn’t digital transformation offer the chance to completely redesign and shape the world of work and jobs (new collar!)?
Where do the blue-collar employees stand concerning digital transformation?
In the daily work of many large companies, the reality is that not all “blue-collar employees” have a company e-mail address or access to the intranet. But this also means that almost 50% of the workforce is excluded from digital tools and digital participation.
How should digital transformation of entire organizations succeed in such cases? How can complete business models be rethought if these important employees, who are often even closer to the product and the customer, are excluded from the transformation and innovation process? Employees from production areas especially have valuable knowledge about production processes.
Here it becomes clear that companies (or put better: all of us) have to deal with the “why” of digitization processes. Digital transformation can bring many new opportunities, but they must be used. How can transformation processes be designed in such a way that they ultimately benefit the individual – and, consequently, our organizations? How can we work together more effectively, healthier and more productively, and make our work more self-reliant and flexible – in all areas?
It’s also different – about trust & networking
But why is it exactly that blue-collar employees have so little involvement so far?
On the one hand, employees in the commercial sector are, for the most part, heavily tied to their shifts. On the other hand, there are usually no computers at production workstations. Integration and networking seem so difficult at first glance. A third point makes clear how important open thinking and trust are: there are often prejudices against blue-collar employees, which is a great pity, especially since these fears often do not come true. As various examples show, employees from the production sector often have a high interest in getting involved – if it’s made possible and they’re trusted. And there are also simple and practical solutions for the first two points. Almost everyone owns a smartphone today. Thus, technical tools can connect different communication worlds and dissolve silos between white- and blue-collar areas.
The example of Robert Bosch Lollar Guss GmbH shows how the involvement of production employees can look. A team-staffing process is being used there in which shop-floor employees are involved in the application process right from the start. There is no weighting or hierarchy in decision-making. The whole thing started as a grassroots project, which has meanwhile made the rounds. Its success is clear: newly hired employees have a better team fit and the shop-floor employees feel enormously valued by their involvement in the process. In addition, they feel more responsible for new colleagues and accompany them on a good start.
Through trust and networking, blue-collar employees can also document and share their knowledge, recognize problems faster and become drivers of new ideas.
Rethinking the world of work – New-collar Jobs
The debate about blue collar frequently revolves around the issues of skills shortage and job risk (often as a scare tactic). But digitalization is also creating tons of new jobs, many of which we still cannot say how they will look – so-called new-collar jobs.
Incidentally, almost all occupational fields are affected by this – whether blue collar or white collar. This requires new skills and competencies for dealing with data and the willingness to develop continuously and flexibly.
Because many of the new jobs will not require lengthy (i.e., university) training, but rather specific training in specific areas and a new and different skill set. Some experts are already saying that “digital literacy” has become the fourth cultural skill after reading, writing and arithmetic.
It is very clear that (further) education and lifelong learning are becoming increasingly important in order to meet new challenges. And not only in schools and universities, but also and especially in companies. Organizations must create spaces in which knowledge sharing, networking and continuous (mutual) learning are possible. And companies must use the strongest leverage they have: their own employees – and all of them, regardless of hierarchy and area.