Manufacturing Workers Upbeat On Digitization
April 7, 2021
of a new survey show 8 in 10 manufacturing workers (83%) are interested in
learning new digital skills, and fewer than 1 in 5 (18%) respondents said
they're happy with their current digital skillset.
The prevailing wisdom for years has been that factory and industrial workers
would resist digitalization of their workplaces for fear of being replaced. But
the survey, titled "Digital Illiteracy in the Factory: Providing Workers with
Low-Code Tools," revealed that workers now see acquiring technology as a
Other revelations in the survey include: Nearly 9 out of 10 said they want to
learn how to use low-code software development, while only 3% currently use
low-code in their jobs. More than two-thirds (67%) say they want to create a
software app that would solve issues at work. According to this survey and a
parallel survey conducted in Europe, U.S. workers are more willing to welcome
and contribute to workplace digitalization than their counterparts in Germany
(78% vs. 61%) — a surprising result, given that German manufacturing workers
enjoy a reputation as some of the most skilled in the world.
Mendix commissioned the research, conducted from January 29 to February 11,
2021, to quantify the total low-code potential among full-time manufacturing
workers. Goals included learning about workers' attitudes and motivations, as
well as obstacles that prevent them from acquiring low-code and other digital
skills. In both the U.S. and Germany, Mendix surveyed full-time workers (those
who work more than 30 hours per week, either as employees, contractors to a
single company, or are self-employed) employed in the manufacturing sector. The
sample size was 250 in the U.S. and 250 in Germany.
Not enough training or tools for workers
Another surprise from the survey is how little support U.S. manufacturing
workers receive in developing digital skills. That only 18% are happy with their
digital skills is just one sign that more training is required. At a time when
the country's manufacturing industry remains mired in a decades-long slump and
when managers clamor for more useful software applications, news reports
indicate that the nation's workforce is ill-equipped to deal with writing code.
"Low-code solves so many of the problems facing manufacturers and
industrialists," said Derek Roos, CEO of Mendix. "Like many business sectors,
U.S. manufacturing is short of software and software developers. Training
workers to code is expensive and time-consuming. Low-code enables citizen
developers to build applications rapidly, with minimum training. As for the
trained developers that manufacturing companies do employ, Mendix's low-code
helps them create apps 10X as fast and at a much lower cost."
With 13 million working in manufacturing, the stakes are high
Reviving U.S. manufacturing is one of the key linchpins of President Joe Biden's
"Build Back Better" campaign and vital to his economic recovery plan. The sector
remains the fifth largest employer in the U.S., with more than 13 million
workers. In January, Biden said a turnaround in manufacturing "must be part of
the engine of American prosperity now."
The good news for Biden is that some in manufacturing's upper echelons recognize
the need to provide workers with digital skills and tools, sooner rather than
Gardner Carrick works for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the
nation's largest manufacturing trade association, a group that represents the
12.8 million manufacturing workers who collectively contribute $2.4 trillion
annually to the U.S. economy. In Carrick's role as vice president of Strategic
Initiatives for The Manufacturing Institute, NAM's educational and development
arm, he and TMI are charged with finding ways to "inspire, educate, and
empower,'' the industry's workforce. For him, the results of Mendix's survey are
a positive sign.
"Incorporating digital applications is vital to the ongoing competitiveness of
manufacturing in the U.S., and it is heartening to see such a large percentage
of the manufacturing workforce ready to contribute to this effort," Carrick
said. "Low-code development platforms, such as those provided by Mendix, provide
our workforce with the tools to contribute to this digital transformation, and
we should prioritize training in these skills."
But for a nationwide rebound to occur, political and business leaders need to
search for innovative answers. Last month, The Washington Post reported on a new
study by the Brookings Institution on why Indiana, one of the nation's top
manufacturing states, has fallen behind the national average in productivity for
the past 10 years. Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings and one of the
report's authors, was quoted saying Indiana's troubles are typical of the
struggles for manufacturing across the nation. The report found that the state's
manufacturing was slow to adopt digital technologies and that Indiana also ranks
37th among states in information technology investment per worker.
In December, IndustryWeek reported that the National Skills Coalition (NSC) had
found that nearly one in three U.S. workers had either very few digital skills
or even no skills at all.
Low-code is the key to helping workers span the digital divide
is the kind of tool that enables citizen developers, people with little or no
training in writing code, to create enterprise-grade, tailor-made software
capable of solving complex problems in the workplace. The Mendix low-code
platform is a visual development approach that uses drag-and-drop components and
model-driven logic via a graphical user interface that's simple to understand.
With low-code, manufacturers avoid spending loads of time or money training
workers to build useful applications. Not doing so would mean missing an
important opportunity to train pools of workers who appear eager to learn how to
The survey found that 87% of U.S. workers want to learn how to use low-code.
Among that group, 88% of women said they are very interested in learning to
low-code, versus 51% of men. Millennials and Gen X workers expressed the most
interest, with 84% saying they were very interested in learning to low-code,
compared to only 37% of Baby Boomers expressing the same level of interest.
"The United States needs to move now to get their workers into the digital
game," said Roos. "If the country wants 'Made in the USA' to mean something
again, and if it wants to reduce unemployment and keep its economy vital and
thriving, manufacturing and industry should provide low-code and other tools
that help bridge the digital divide.