CEO at Actify, Inc.enabling manufacturers to build some of the world’s most complex and advanced products.
It’s interesting: in certain areas, car manufacturers and car suppliers are among the most technically advanced organizations in any industry, with a very advanced level of automation. Think of the robots car manufacturers have been using effectively for decades.
But there are other areas of the auto industry, like program management, where if you rub a little on the surface, the obsolete past looks back at you, rather than the brave new future. Automotive program managers at suppliers are responsible for ensuring that components are developed and delivered to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) on time and within budget. And in many cases, they do this using Excel spreadsheets or other systems that have been in use since the 1980s as their primary tools.
Needless to say, this “old school” approach doesn’t sit well with today’s digital natives, who are practically born with smart devices in their hands and familiar with Zoom, Teams, Google Docs, instant messaging, and other pillars of a modern working environment.
How can automotive suppliers expect to find and retain the workers they depend on, given the growing gap between their employees’ technology expectations and the reality that so often awaits them?
An urgent problem
The new crop of program managers have seen first-hand what kind of technology is available today, both in their personal and professional lives – and they expect their employers to give them powerful, easy-to-use, modern tools that will make life easier.
If an auto supplier doesn’t provide tools to help their auto program managers perform their day-to-day tasks, those companies won’t just experience revenue — they’ll find it hard to get people on board in the first place. The automotive program manager position is stressful enough without the added burden of dealing with clunky technology every day.
This twin recruitment and retention challenge becomes a matter of urgency when you consider that many of the most experienced automotive supplier employees, with decades of institutional knowledge, are retiring and doing other things. To replace that expertise, suppliers don’t just have to replace agencies: they have to find other ways of working. Using a spreadsheet supplemented with piles of institutional knowledge won’t cut it. Suppliers will need a higher level of technology.
The way forward
So, practically speaking, what can organizations do to address these challenges? How can they improve their technology game while also appealing to digital natives when it comes to recruiting and retention? There are several easy ways to get started.
First, an important question in an employee survey is, “Do you have the tools you need to do your job?” If you’re not already collecting this data point in your employee surveys, start now.
Tip number two for car suppliers: Create a roadmap for your technology future. It’s one thing to say, “We don’t have great technology today and we don’t have any concrete plans about how we’re going to improve things.” It’s quite another to say, “We don’t have great technology today, but we have a plan to change that, and this is exactly what that roadmap looks like.” That’s a much more compelling story for existing employees and potential employees to deal with.
A good first step on that roadmap: any auto supplier would benefit from business visualization that allows its members to work in 3D rather than the 2D world of text and part numbers. When team members across the organization have access to 3D information, communication is faster, collaboration is richer, and understanding is deeper. This is a first step that is quick and easy to take and has an immediate effect.
Meanwhile, how do you sell this effort to management to actually get the ball rolling? It is invaluable here to use information from independent sources that tell us about the current state of program management and how much more challenging it will become in the coming years.
For example, a recent report from Lifecycle Insights (sponsored by my company) found that: 39% of program managers still track program status through manual data entry and physically printed documentation. Even when managers use high-tech file sharing solutions like the cloud, as 74% do with some regularity, the data they share is still entered manually, a tedious process that must be done on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. At the same time, 59% of program managers said they want to improve in the coming year, especially given the increasing complexity of program management in the automotive industry, including an increase in the number of OEM customers and an increase in the number of programs to monitor.
Translation? In addition to making employees happier and more attractive to digital natives, there is a compelling business reason for suppliers to upgrade the technology they provide their program managers if they want to do more than just tread water. (Full disclosure: My company provides technology solutions for manufacturers, as do many others.)
Many areas of automotive manufacturing have been automated and improved, but things like program management remain in the digital dark ages. If vendors want to attract digital natives to these highly challenging functions that they absolutely depend on, they need to make sure they deliver the technology to match. As it stands, too many vendors are asking program managers to pretend it’s 1985 when it comes to technology – and as a result, they lose the battle for talent.