Across the United States, industries are struggling to keep up with workforce development needs. Recent projections show that the Phoenix area alone could see a shortage of 80,000 skilled trade workers in the next six to seven years, said Jim Banaszak, Ph.D., Partner at McKinsey & Company, in a keynote address that kicked off the Index AR Solutions Spring 2022 Retreat.
The good news: industry thought leaders and visionaries who came together at the Index Retreat showcased practical solutions to meet the challenge head on. For example, digital training innovations, such as eBooks and augmented reality, can offer a powerful solution to the acute workforce issues.
Banaszak and fellow McKinsey & Company Partner Garo Hovnanian addressed the crowd of industry representatives by quantifying how challenging the workforce situation is nationwide and its impact across the entire value chain from skilled trades to engineers. Exacerbating the problem, according to Banaszak, is that current educational capacity and conventional approaches may not have capacity to solve the problem.
Successfully navigating the current labor mismatch requires a comprehensive set of coordinated actions that address labor issues and their effects across the value chain. While there is no single solution, the McKinsey experts spoke to a set of integrated actions executives can take to respond.
Following the macro view of today’s workforce challenges, Index Retreat attendees heard from James Merlo, Ph.D., an accomplished human factors thought leader and Vice President of Operational Excellence at Knowledge Vine.
Merlo emphasized the importance of having an accurate mental model of how machinery or equipment works. eBooks and mobile apps from Index, according to Merlo, provide the contextual insight that critical to safe operation, maintenance or construction.
“Index makes sure that workers have the right information at the right time, but not overwhelm them,” said Merlo. “And we’re going to give them the situational awareness so that they can be successful.”
Following Merlo’s presentation of the science behind the tools, Chelsea McCracken, Vice President for Safety, Training and Development at MidAmerican Energy Company and Mike Hoff, Director of Health and Safety at MidAmerican Energy Company used Index eBooks and mobile apps to create a world-class training experience.
Building on the success of a pilot project in 2017, Index and MidAmerican have created 15 digital training programs. Index eBooks and mobile apps play a key role in the classrooms of MidAmerican’s new centralized training facility in Des Moines, and they proved exceptionally valuable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trainers were able to host virtual sessions using the immersive digital curriculums, which then become a reference material for workers outside of the classroom.
The partnership between Index and MidAmerican suggests that a successfully creating a digital training curriculum is as much about the process as it is the technology.
“Index has done such a great job of making our employees feel comfortable and valued,” said McCracken. “What better way to engage them than to have them be a part of the development of the training.”
Index works closely with MidAmerican journeymen and other veteran workers during the curriculum development, encouraging their participation in demonstration videos and documenting procedures.
“They are the SMEs. We have to learn from them. It’s not the manager telling you how to do the work, it’s the employee showing you how the work is done,” explained McCracken.
Index Retreat attendees enjoyed an afternoon keynote address from Miss Henriksen, Executive Director at the Center for Energy Workforce Development. She echoed points made by McCracken and other presenters about the challenging state of the energy workforce landscape. One in five utility workers is 55 or older, and one fifth of industry employees are eligible to retire within the next five years.
“Strategic workforce planning is not a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity,” said Henriksen.
Henriksen noted that “the folks who are under 35 are also responsible for the lion’s share of new ways we are going to harness power in our country,” further underscoring the need for digital training solutions that appeal to younger workers and can facilitate knowledge transfer from subject matter experts.
Kirill Zolotov, Lead Engineer in the Steam Distribution group at Con Edison gave Index Retreat attendees a demonstration of a mobile AR app built by Index to streamline pumphouse work order management, route-finding, and job acceptance processes and operations. The app enables Con Edison to confirm that workers visit the correct pumphouse location and operate the correct vales during a work order procedure. Zolotov emphasized the importance of such a capability, as turning the wrong valve in the wrong location can lead to significant operational issues.
Thought-provoking closing remarks at the Index Retreat were provided by James R. Golden, Ph.D., a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General and Senior Consultant to the President of William & Mary. Reflecting on the points made in earlier presentations, Golden suggested that managers should focus on how to attract people to the industry and help candidates appreciate what the opportunities are.
“This is not your grandfather’s industry,” said Golden. “It’s one that is using new technology, one that really cares about you.”
Golden also summarized the Index AR Solutions value proposition, noting how Index eBooks and mobile AR apps can become an integrated part of the workforce development model. They become the foundation of digital training curriculums that can be integrated into organizational culture and the iterative process of training – from the classroom to the jobsite.
To date, 500 unique Index mobile apps and eBooks are being created through the company’s SuperApp® Development model. For more information on how these tools are being used to solve workforce challenges for major utilities today, visit indexarsolutions.com/apprentice-programs/.