Episode 3

Using Technology To Engage Employees in Manufacturing and Overcome Industry Staff Shortage

Jake Hall, The Manufacturing Millennial

June 28, 2022

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Digitization Mavericks is a podcast taking a closer look at the paperless transformation in manufacturing, construction, and beyond. Our host, Chris Krnezich interviews industry leaders to discuss the challenges that persist across the frontline, and how organizations are using new technology to improve efficiency for common workflows like abnormality reporting, BBSOs, 5S, inspection scheduling, and more.

In this episode, we are once again joined by Jake Hall for a second episode. He's known as The Manufacturing Millennial on the internet, and speaks at industry trade shows all over the globe. Most recently, Jake was at Automate and he shared some takeaways on the show. We also take a closer look at the industry laborforce issue, why more automation is leading to the digitization of manual frontline SOPs, the growth of AI in manufacturing, how companies can attract and engage a tech-enabled workforce, and how technology can be used to get more from your existing resources. This episode is the perfect listen for managers and senior leaders in manufacturing who are battling to retain staff, and seeking to invest in solutions that empower workers.

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Transcription is automatically generated. 

Jake Hall (00:00):
Right now there's a lot of people moving jobs because every company's hiring more people at a higher pay to make it happen. So if you're a manufacturer, a lot of times it's yeah, you wanna keep up production, you wanna automate, but what are you doing right now to make sure that the current workforce you have working for you is gonna stay there.

Announcer (00:18):
Welcome to the digitization Mavericks podcast. Here we take a closer look at digital transformation and automation and manufacturing with the stakeholders who are working hard to make it happen. Our host Chris Krnezic interviews, industry leaders, to discuss the challenges that persist across the front line and how organizations are using new technology to improve efficiency for common workflows, like abnormality reporting. Bbsos, 5S inspection scheduling and more, the status quo is no longer acceptable in manufacturing. So this is a podcast for the digitization Mavericks, the employees who care deeply about their company and want to elevate the quality of their work environment.

Chris Krnezic (00:54):
Welcome to another episode. It's Chris. And today I am joined once again by the the man, the legend Jake Hall, the manufacturing millennial. Thanks for making time to join us on another episode of digitization Mavericks.

Jake Hall (01:08):
Aw man. It's a pleasure to be here once again.

Chris Krnezic (01:10):
Great. So I know you were at automate last week or two weeks ago. Any key takeaways, how did it go?

Jake Hall (01:18):
Oh man. Well, I mean the, the big takeaway that I had right away is it's nice to be back in, in person events for what seemed like a very, too long years of the pandemic. And there were some shows happening this trade show really felt like people are back, people are excited about the industry. People are excited to come out and see new technology and people are excited just to, you know, see people in person for a long time or from relationships that they developed and informed online when now they're in person. It's really good. So the networking and just the, the atmosphere of in-person events was phenomenal. The other big thing I saw right away is man, there were a ton of robots on that show floor, I think more, more industrial robots and cobots that I've ever seen and one giving building ever. And I think that's kind of talking about the state of the industry there we're in right now is a lot of companies are automating and a lot of manufacturers are looking for new ways to adapt that type of technology.

Chris Krnezic (02:19):
Yeah, absolutely. I saw you got to hang out with the world's largest robot. You took an interesting picture that had the world's largest robot and the world's smallest robot in the same shot. Yep. However, what left you most excited about leaving that conference? Was it the larger than life stuff or some of the smaller technical innovations or all of it, or give us a synopsis?

Jake Hall (02:40):
You know, I, I think the biggest thing I would say that really drove me that really made me excited to leading the conference was the adaption of artificial intelligence solving new problems. So AI tackling vision solutions or vision problems where before of traditional vision, you kind of had a limited set of tools that were able to inspect default defects and quality issues, where now you can leverage AI in a way that is gonna allow you to be able to address a lot more problems in dynamic environment. So artificial intelligence, leveraging vision, but also artificial intelligence working alongside robotics. So when you're able to guide robotics and make them flexible in a way where it's not just pre-programmed positions going back and forth, it's a dynamic picking environment or a dynamic standing or operation it's gonna make it. So a lot of companies can automate solutions in ways that they've never been able to achieve before. So I think that's, what's, that's, what's really exciting about leaving, automate with, with that new technology in hand.

Chris Krnezic (03:39):
Yeah. It's really interesting. You mentioned that I actually used to sell AI enabled vision before I worked here at Weever. And yeah, it's really awesome to see that what the AI enabled clients to do is make it that technology easier to deploy. It's not a rule based system where you have to have an expert who's really good at programming being able to do it with the AI thing you're setting, what is, okay, what is no good? It's making it really easy for anybody to integrate that type of technology.

Jake Hall (04:05):
Absolutely. I think what's exciting about that, right? Is when you looked at the general state of automation for a long time, many companies felt that automation was only available to large manufacturers who had resources in place, lots of controls, engineers, lots of robot programmers or industrial engineers, or, or literally teams that could deploy these solutions. Well, when you're adding artificial intelligence, it's it kind of democratizes and, and creates a, a foundation denominator for everyone to build off of, of these technologies. We're now small to medium size manufacturers, which do represent, you know, the majority of businesses here in the us can now leverage automation in a way that makes them competitive, you know, as well. And, and the economy that we're in right now.

Chris Krnezic (04:52):
Yeah. So shifting the conversation back to what this show is about, which is digital transformation, these shows, and these conferences are often about showcasing the latest hardware technology yeah. In terms of physical equipment. But what did you see in terms of shifting behaviors and preferences of today's technology driven workforce in that show? Was that at the forefront? Was it in the back burner? Was it a conversation? Did it come up?

Jake Hall (05:17):
I, I think, I think it was very much in the conversation. You know, when we look at enabling these technologies, these technologies are being built around people they're not necessarily being built around processes and products. So if manufacturers, there are companies that are deploying a new solution, it's about how do we better enable the existing workforce to either install this solution, make those solutions running, be able to train and problem solve when problems come up. So very much was a lot of the solutions based on the digitization of these processes with, with workers and operators of mind.

Chris Krnezic (05:56):
Awesome. So if that's the case, why do you believe it's still so difficult to attract new top talent to the frontline teams in manufacturing?

Jake Hall (06:06):
Yeah, I think a lot of it has to do with, you know, when you and I walk a show, we're, we're very well aware of a lot of the new technology that's out there, but for the common, you know, public, there's a perception of what manufacturing is. And there's a perception that is still this dark, dirty, dangerous, you know, doll environment that we kind of talked about before in the last podcast. But I, I think as well as these technologies are, are relatively new in a lot of areas, you know, if you were to say, Hey, Jake, what is the biggest differentiator between now with automating 20, 22 versus automate three years ago in 2019? It's the leverage of AI it's it's it was, it was there, but it was very limited. It was, it took a lot of investment in order to get that type of solution up and running.

Jake Hall (06:55):
When now it's, it's much more democratized. So I think we are gonna start seeing a lot more people and a lot more people excited about this industry because the simplicity of deploying these solutions, not only make it more benefit for manufacturers, but also it's gonna excite a lot more younger people because now they can say, oh, I work with a vision system or a robot solution that, that uses artificial intelligence to deploy, you know, these type of processes where before it was either very mechanical or it was just driven by labor because there was not a solution that was, you know, that, that could be implemented for a, an ROI justification to make it work.

Chris Krnezic (07:36):
Yeah. So, I mean, you can drive by pretty much any plant out there right now and see now hiring or we're hiring or bonus for sign on bonuses is that because manufacturers are not great at expressing that technology that they've adopted or is it because there's a lack or a lag in terms of actually adopting that technology?

Jake Hall (07:57):
I think, well, there's a couple reasons right now. I think that one of the reasons why we're still driving well, we still drive down the road and we see manufacturers hiring is because the state of the industry is there's just not enough people to hire in a lot of, a lot of jobs. When you look at what the unemployment rate was in 2019 in the us compared to what it is now, the unemployment rate in the us is actually rather even across the board from what it was coming outta the epidemic to where we are now. But there's a massive unemployment rate in, in, in manufacturing. And I think it's somewhere around 900,000 open jobs in manufacturing right now. And it's a lot of those people who left the manufacturing and say, you know what, I'm gonna go, and I'm gonna work for Uber eats now.

Jake Hall (08:42):
And I'm just gonna drive around and drop food off, or I'm gonna go and be a Lyft driver or all these other industries that have popped up recently in the past three, four years, which has pulled out a market of a, a pool of labor that once was relevant to a lot of the younger generations going into manufacturing. And I think we are seeing the, the higher adoption. That's why robot rates or, and in terms of robot demand is up 40% this year in Q1 alone. I mean, when you look at last year, robots were up 27% from the year before, before that 21% from the year before. So, I mean, we're seeing a massive adaption of robotics. I think the one reason why we might not be seeing a as, as, as large adopted as we are, as we want to be right now, Chris is because the supply chain right.

Jake Hall (09:31):
Manufacturers wanna automate. But right now it's taking them 10, 11, 12 months in some cases to get the equipment, to put into an automation process. Right now I was talking with a manufacturer and it was a seven month lead time to get a PLC. So you have, you have these companies that wanna automate, they're not even gonna get their product to a year from now. So <laugh>, it's one of those things is companies wanna automate, but they just simply can't because the supply chain's not available to meet that demand. And I think a lot of cases, the supply chain is dramatically hurting the adaption of automation. Not because people are right about it. It's just, we can't because there's no resources available to do it. And there's no companies that are available that have open spots to automate those processes.

Chris Krnezic (10:18):
Right. So how do you fill that gap then in now? So if you're waiting, let's say one year to get this automated line and running, you've still gotta meet production targets for the next 12 months. How do you fill that gap with your existing workforce or somebody that you're bringing in?

Jake Hall (10:33):
That's a great question. <Laugh> and I don't have the answer for it. I could say the one thing that manufacturers do need to look at right now is what are they putting in place for, for labor and job retention, right? What are you doing to keep the existing workforce you have, they're working for you right now, still available. Right now there's a lot of people moving jobs because every company's hiring more people at a higher pay to make it happen. So if you're a manufacturer, a lot of times it's, yeah, you wanna keep a production you wanna automate, but what are you doing right now to make sure that the current workforce you have working for you is gonna stay there? I think a lot of that has to do with how are we adapting technology to make that that work easier for that operator or for that person. And it might not be a full blown automation system that can keep up with just the labor. That's not there, but the labor that you do have doing tasks right now, what are you doing? That's gonna keep them staying there. And I think that's the biggest thing that a lot of companies need to look at is how are you from a cultural perspective, making sure that you are enabling your, your existing workforce.

Chris Krnezic (11:45):
Yeah. And we touched on this a bit in our last episode about retention and the aging workforce. And typically you'll get the older workforce a bit more loyal to those companies. Whereas the younger generation tends to job hop every few years. So can you shed some light on how you see that problem? Once you reach 20, 25 or 2030, considering 26% of the workers are already above the age of 50. And there's a gap in terms of that transfer of knowledge.

Jake Hall (12:15):
Yeah. I mean, I think, Ooh, you, you hit out a couple of big points right there. Let's talk about the transfer of knowledge real quick, because I think it's one of those things where a lot of manufacturers are saying, Hey, I can't hire people. And that's a massive issue cuz I can't make product then. But I think the biggest thing you're looking into is listen, if a lot of your processes aren't digitized and you're not, and you're not making a lot of the processes with the existing labor that you have in place a, an, an automated process where you're being guided through how you set up your jobs, how you do inspection, how you address downtime, how you address when issues and errors pop up. If that process right now, you're not automating. If your existing workforce, it's gonna make it 10 times more difficult when that labor finally might come to then support you.

Jake Hall (13:02):
So I think the biggest thing that we, when we look at a lot of a lot of manufacturing companies out there is how are how are companies better how are, how are companies able to better capture the information and the processes that they currently have implemented right now and not just worry about the next piece of equipment cuz a lot of companies like do, for example, want to automate, put it in a brand new million dollar line yet they don't look at how efficient their current line is running that they do have production on. And, and I think that's one of those big things, right? And, and I don't wanna go off on a tangent, but let let's say overall equipment effectiveness, right? We're monitoring how efficient a machine is running. Well, if that machine's learning running at 50% capacity or 50, 50% efficiency, if you, if you brought that up to closer to 80, 90%, which is a very high number I understand, but you're, you're virtually buying another machine by producing the same output as that. So I think the biggest thing that we look at is sometimes the, sometimes manufacturers can create a lot of opportunity and new solutions for them, not by always going out and getting something new, but it's how do they leverage the existing process that they have in place to make 'em more efficient.

Chris Krnezic (14:25):
Right. So with that then is technology the key to solving, hiring or retention issues? Or is there something that needs to happen before implementing these solutions? Almost like a fundamental mindset shift.

Jake Hall (14:38):
Yeah. I, I mean the, the, the great example for that is like industry 4.0, you know, are you industry 4.0 already? What's your industry 4.0 strategy, what industry? 4.0 encompasses a bunch of technologies that are out there like augmented reality data, collaborative robots, cybersecurity, all these different data, information driven processes. But for me industry 4.0 or what I would say, digital transformation, it's not a product, it's a cultural shift. And if you, as a manufacturer, you as an end user, who's listening to those right now. If you could say, Hey, this is really cool technology, but unless we're able to act on what that technology is, offering us in terms of data or accessibility information or know what's happening to our machine or what's happening to our workflow in terms of you know, how we're moving product around the floor. And what are we doing for allocation of machines and components.

Jake Hall (15:31):
If, if you, as a company, don't have the ability to act and move on that data implementing technology is not gonna benefit you at all. You know, I can, I can give you the fanciest the best wheels, the best engine, you know, in the world. But if you throw that on a Chevy, whatever, it's still not gonna be the best car out there because you're limited by the base of what the machine can do. You know, so that's the biggest thing. Yeah. Technology is a solution. Technology is going to transform manufacturing into this new industry. But if a company culturally wise is not willing to adapt and, and make a shift, and this is how we're going to solve problems moving forward, then that technology is, is, is limited by your, your company's culture.

Chris Krnezic (16:21):
Great. So we discussed on the last episode, how important videos and content are in the mission to attract the next generation of workers. When you have early conversations with your clients about implementing these types of technologies, what types of objections do you typically face?

Jake Hall (16:44):
How much investment is it gonna take to start this job up? Right. You know, how much time am I gonna spend to get this to, to get this working, I think is the biggest thing. The other thing as well, that I think a lot of companies realize is how does this gonna work from an older generation who's there, right? When we're talking about implementing new technology, and let's say we want to implement a app based workflow instruction or something like that. Well, younger generations are a lot more excited and a lot more willing to adapt that type of technology than motor generation. So how do you make it? So you communicate to your existing older workforce that they're creating an impact, not just by following this process now, but they're also investing in their future generations by taking the knowledge that they have and then putting it on a platform that allows them to be able to teach and mentor the next generation by leveraging that technology.

Chris Krnezic (17:37):
So if we circle back to the original objection about what's it gonna take, is that objection more based around adoption or is it based around cost?

Jake Hall (17:48):
I mean the current right now, I mean, cost is not as big of a driving issue for a lot of manufacturers as it once was because there's such a demand for labor right now. And demand for consumers and products right now. So a lot of companies I'm right, I'm talking to, they're not having a hard time finding jobs that they can complete and, and, you know, bid on. They're having a hard time saying, do I have the workforce that can support that demand that we have from our customers? So price and price is always something like, I'm not saying that price is just out the door, but a lot of companies are looking at what other conversations are out there around the adaption, other than price. And I think that's just a big thing that a lot of companies are looking at now.

Chris Krnezic (18:41):
Right. So what recommendation would you have for companies that want to digitize and engage their future workforce? But they're not really sure where to start.

Jake Hall (18:52):
You know, for me, I would say start small in a lot of areas, find out where you guys can, can integrate something that isn't a massive process, but you can chalk it off as a win because a lot of times for a lot of manufacturers and a lot of management as well, there's a lot of, I don't want to. And I think it's, or a lot of times why industry 4.0 processes have failed in the past is because they bid off more than they could chew. They tried to be very ambitious with that and then they weren't able to turn it. So the, a lot of times management, I'm not gonna do this digital process, this digital transformation, this industry 4.0, it just cost me a half, a million dollars to integrate. And I got nothing out of it. Well, if you go out there and let's say, you know, I'm just gonna go out and I'm gonna slap on a bunch of sensors on the side of my machine. That's gonna look at vibration and condition monitoring and when a machine's down and be able to act on a very simple process of I'm getting digital data. And I can act on that data when I get an alarmer process, that's a great place to start because a lot of areas, it's a low risk, it's a low cost. It's not a high capital investment. And from there, you can begin to understand the benefits of what it likes to get data and digital information from your physical process.

Chris Krnezic (20:10):
Yeah. I think you had a really great point there about starting small, starting very focused. So then once they've got over that initial hurdle and they've got their feet wet, how do they ensure that there's good adoption long term and not just a quick win,

Jake Hall (20:26):
Building out a digital transformation strategy. So with any company right now, if you're saying, what do you, what is your goal five years from down the road of what your manufacturing process is gonna look like in terms of digital transformation? That's what you need to build it out. And, you know, we can have a whole conversation around digital, how you build out a digital transformation. There's a lot of resources out there, but I think the biggest thing is what is your long term strategy when it comes to digital transformation and digital adoption of technology?

Chris Krnezic (20:55):
Yeah. So thinking about what success looks like yeah. For you and then working backwards from there. Yeah.

Jake Hall (21:00):
Yeah. Great. If you don't go with a plan, if you just, somebody wanna say, I wanna add this technology without understanding why you want to add it, or what are the results you want to get out of it. So you can act on those results. You're never gonna find value in it.

Chris Krnezic (21:12):
Yeah. You got it. So digital shift reporting is one of the earliest examples of a basic workflow improvement that can drastically improve the employee and management experience. For me, it strikes me as non-negotiable. Can you think of any areas in manufacturing that companies can no longer ignore if they want to engage a younger tech driven workforce?

Jake Hall (21:37):
Yeah. I, I mean, I think it's the biggest thing is if a young workforce were to walk on the manufacturing floor and they look at that floor and they say, this is from 40 years ago, you're not going to keep them around. And, and I think this is the biggest thing is, does, does your manufacturing process and floor feel like it's from 2020 or does it feel like it's from 1980? And, and I think it's one of those things that if you want to attract the younger generation, you wanna attract the younger workforce, you need to design a culture and environment that makes it feel like you're investing in their future because you're adapting in the technology of their future.

Chris Krnezic (22:15):
So generally speaking, then for that younger worker, do you think manufacturing gets a bad rep? And if so, how do we change that?

Jake Hall (22:23):
Yeah. I mean, manufacturing gets a bad rep because it's viewed as a, a dark, dirty doll, dangerous environment. Right. You know, and, and, and how we're going to change that is by transforming the, the culture of what manufacturing is looked at. Let's, let's use an example, right. So right now, gen Zs is the youngest generation out there as, as a, a workforce right now is between the ages of four and 22 years old. Well, there was a study done that asked gen Zs and said, Hey, where, what industry do you want to go and work in? Well, the highest percentage that they viewed was at 36%, and that was a stem based industry, a science, technology, engineering, math based industry, well, manufacturing as a industry was 3.5%. You know, it was that, you know, it was higher than 3.5% hospitality, barista. That was

Chris Krnezic (23:12):
Everything. Everything was higher than 3% <laugh> yeah.

Jake Hall (23:15):
I, I mean, so, so how do we, how do we change the persona of the culture of manufacturing? You make it, so manufacturing is not what people view it as, but you may, you turn, you transform manufacturing into a stem industry, an industry based around science, technology, engineering, and math. That's how you change. The view of manufacturing is as an industry of innovation. It's not an industry of, you know, where my grandpa used to work.

Chris Krnezic (23:41):
Yeah. Carrying heavy in gets of steel and throwing it into a molten pot to melt.

Jake Hall (23:45):

Chris Krnezic (23:47):
So do you believe that steady tech adoption will help manufacturing curb, that staff shortage in the short term?

Jake Hall (23:57):
I sure hope so. You know, it's, it's hard to predict where, where our industry is gonna be in five years, but I can tell you right now that the workforce isn't getting any younger, the skills in the industry aren't, you know, are aren't being gained it quick enough. You know, when you look at there's 550,000 welders in manufacturing, the us right now, and the mean age of them is 56 years old. I could tell you in 10 years, you're gonna lose a lot of welders. And it's up to us. If we adapt either a new technology, that's gonna fulfill those jobs in welding by leveraging things like robotics and collaborative robots and AI based around welding. And then at the same time, are we as an industry promoting skilled trades in a way that's going to get those gen Zs and those millennials, those younger kids excited about the industry to become welders as a, as an example.

Chris Krnezic (24:48):
Yeah. So you touched on again, cobots, that's come up a few times today collaborative robots, AI. So it seems like the general trend is people are looking for technology. That's easier to adopt. I'm sure. If you went to a trade show five or 10 years ago, you'd have, you'd see one or two collaborative robots.

Jake Hall (25:05):

Chris Krnezic (25:06):
Yeah. How many did you see it automate this week?

Jake Hall (25:08):
Oh gosh. I think there was actually a report where there's, I think, well, over a hundred collaborative robots at automate and from like 10, 15 different manufacturers as well. So, you know, 5, 6, 7 years ago, there might have been two cobot manufacturers. Now there's over a dozen.

Chris Krnezic (25:24):
Everyone doing

Jake Hall (25:24):
It now, a dozen in 10 years from now, it's hard to say some will, some will keep on sailing high and some might sink. But what we do know is that new technology is being transformed and built around the worker. And that's why collaborative robots are at a lot of areas being adapted, not just because they're viewed as a, a safe robot, a safe application robot, but because they're viewed as a easy to use, easy to program, easy to install solution.

Chris Krnezic (25:55):
Yeah. So the easier that you can make it to adopt the better that adoption's gonna be.

Jake Hall (25:59):

Chris Krnezic (26:01):
Awesome. just guess last question here, where can people find you online and in person in your busy schedule in the months to come?

Jake Hall (26:10):
Yeah, I mean the best place to find me online is, I mean, you can Google me and just search Jake hall, the manufacturing millennial, and I'll probably pop up. You can find me on LinkedIn. I also, you know, I've grown to other brands as well right now, Chris, I just had a bunch of posts. I pushed on TikTok, you know, just cuz I wanted to get the younger audience. I had one post on TikTok that had over 700,000 views around robotics. So, you know, you could find me in all the different social media platforms that are out there. Anyone you can think of. I I'm, I have a platform or a channel on in person I would say I got one more event coming up in Chicago next week in June. Other than that, you know, if you're listening to this in the fall is gonna be approaching IMTS fab tech assembly show Mr. Vision show, there's gonna be a lot of them. This will coming fall.

Chris Krnezic (27:00):
Well, I'm looking forward to seeing you, one of them getting in my Lego.

Jake Hall (27:04):
Sounds great.

Chris Krnezic (27:05):
Awesome. And with that, I think we're ready to wrap up. Thanks again, Jake. It's been a blast having you on the show and thank you to any listeners who turned into tuned into this episode. I'll see you again on digitization at Mavericks next week. Bye for now

Announcer (27:21):
The digitization Maverick podcast is powered by Weever, a platform that automates every critical process. So you and your employees can focus on delivering value. Use digital data, capture, workflow management and real time reporting tools to dramatically improve operational efficiency and employee engagement. Visit to see why so many of the world's manufactured leaders like Kellogg's Unilever use Weever to optimize standard operating procedures.

Chris Krnezic (27:45):
Hey, this is your host, Chris. Again, I have two quick asks for all my listeners to help the show grow one. If you got value from this episode, please subscribe to the podcast on apple or Spotify and lever review, letting us know why two, if you are interested in appearing on the show or making a guest suggestion, please email podcast, We'd love to hear from you. Thanks and see you next time.


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