As technology becomes more and more prevalent within every industry and AI and automation enter the workplace, the focus on people and their potential to do creative and innovative work has never been more relevant. In the manufacturing industry, as with all sectors, every business must put people at the front of their technology initiatives in order to succeed.

It should come as no surprise that the manufacturing sector in the UK plays a crucial role for the economy. This is recognised by the government, with the Industrial Strategy highlighting that manufacturing provides 10 per cent of the UK’s Gross Value Added, as well as generating around 50% of the UK’s exports. Crucially, the sector’s productivity has also increased four times faster than the rest of the economy, with digital technology being a key driving factor for the industry.

Boosting productivity and employee engagement is certainly on every business leader’s agenda, and implementing new and innovative technology is traditionally the “go-to” way in which leaders try to make their organisations more productive. What sometimes happens in these cases, however, is that people are left behind or deprioritised and technology is implemented without a clear strategy and without having the entire company on board from the start.

The firstline opportunity

Firstline workers are more often than not the ones that don’t get to reap the benefits of digital transformation within organisations, and this is also the case when it comes to manufacturing.

Firstline workers are the heartbeat of the manufacturing sector, as they are the first point of contact between a company and its customers and products. And while technology such as automation and AI is having great positive impact on the wider industry – and has served to transform the experience of information workers and move the sector forward – firstline workers in manufacturing have so far been underserved by technology.

Here at Microsoft, we have made it our mission to create technology that empowers every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more. Equipping firstline workers with mobile technology, both hardware and software, gives workers a more intuitive, productive and empowering experience at work. This benefits the entire organisation, helping achieve greater efficiency, enhancing their customers’ experience and increasing both innovation and employee satisfaction.

Take for example production managers, or shop floor operator, who are constantly on-the-go or working from the shop floor and have to communicate as efficiently as possible with teams in the office to help solve complex problems or align on production requirements. Having a lightweight and compact device such as the Surface Go ensures production deadlines are consistently met and customers are kept up to date about work orders and shipments. Ultimately, the outcome is a more efficient and productive operation, with customers feeling valued and prioritised.

Feeling part of the bigger picture

What’s more, firstline workers that do not have traditional office-based jobs can sometimes feel disconnected from their teams back in the office, as they are missing out on valuable face-to-face communication. This is where cloud-based communication and collaboration tools can help, as they enable teams to communicate seamlessly at any point, regardless of location. By making use of these tools, firstline workers can feel more connected with their teams and more ingrained within their wider department. At the end of the day, having an efficient and seamless way to communicate on the go, without having to resort to bulky paperwork or production records reverberates onto the customer, elevating the way customer service is delivered and ensuring that speed and high quality is a top priority.

Whilst making technology a part of the organisational culture in the manufacturing industry can certainly boost employee retention and engagement, helping firstline workers feel valued, it also has great potential to attract new talent. Finding ways to make their organization more attractive is a priority for companies operating in such a digitally driven and competitive work environment, as nowadays graduates are looking beyond the company’s activities and into what they provide for their employees. Equipping firstline workers with mobile tools that make them proud is a key element in achieving this, particularly as technology and digital solutions play a big part in creating a wholesome, forward-thinking and productive work environment.

As technology is such a big part of everything we do – from work, to play – it’s important that we don’t lose sight of what helps move businesses forward and of the lifeblood of any organisation in the manufacturing sector – its firstline workers. For businesses that want to cut through the noise and flourish in the current world of work, arming firstline workers with mobile technology that can help them drive more meaning from their work is a crucial first step.