Does the Changing Workforce Demographic Impact IIoT?

March 16, 2017

An influx of millennial workers may have an impact on whether pharma manufacturers choose to implement IIoT technology.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is predicted to transform the manufacturing sector in the next 10 years (1). A 2015 report from the World Economic Forum says that IIoT will “fundamentally transform how people will work through new interactions between humans and machines.” While this technology is still new in the pharma industry, some drug manufacturers are beginning to incorporate cloud-based technology to better manage equipment. IIoT provides many benefits for companies looking to streamline manufacturing processes. Some of these include equipment and network synchronization, real-time access to data, and ease of information sharing (2).

In addition to changing how pharma manufacturers interact with machinery, Ben Blanchette, director of Strategy and Business Development for IIoT at Honeywell Process Solutions, says that a changing workforce demographic may have an impact on whether companies choose to implement IIoT technology. As members of the baby boomer generation begin to reach retirement and millennials enter the workforce, pharma companies must think about how this new generation best operates in the workplace, Blanchette told BioPharm International.

“We’ve been talking to companies that are really proactive and pushing the envelope in terms of their IIoT implementation and use. Part of the reason why [these companies have] come to invest in [IIoT] is they’re planning to lose a lot of workers in the next 5–10 years as the baby boomers retire, and that’s really the driving force behind why they [are investing in IIoT], and investing time and money trying to maintain a competitive advantage,” Blanchette said. “[The big question is] do you build technology that helps the people that are reaching retirement age do their job better over the next two to three years, or do you start assuming you’re going to have a completely different generation employed when your IIoT implementation reaches its full maturity?”

According to a report from the Pew Research Center, in 2015 millennials were the largest generation in the United States labor force, surpassing baby boomers in 2014, and generation X in 2015 (3). A PwC survey on millennials in the workplace predicts that by 2020, millennials will make up 50% of the global workforce (4). Another unique aspect of the millennial generation is how they operate in the workplace. Millennials have a strong affinity to technology and the digital world, making them “the first generation to enter the workplace with a better grasp of a key business tool than more senior workers” PwC writes. For Blanchette, these are key reasons why IIoT implementation may be a smart move for pharma companies over the next few years.

“The generation that’s coming in today, the millennial generation, operates in a completely different way than the [baby] boomer generation,” he says. “There’s a huge differential in behaviors-how they work, what they value, what challenges them.”

Approximately 41% of the millennials in the PwC survey said that they would rather communicate electronically than face-to-face (4). A total of 59% say “state-of-the-art technology” is an important factor in job selection and 78% say technology makes them more effective at work. PwC says this has influenced some companies to adapt policies to appeal to millennials “for example, offering a choice of smartphones as an employee benefit and actively encouraging business focused use of social media at work.”

For technology focused millennials, IIoT is automating and digitizing the pharma manufacturing plant. IIoT makes it easier for manufacturers to collect and store large amounts of data. IIoT allows employees on the plant floor to virtually communicate with external experts who can connect directly with machinery to troubleshoot issues (5). Technology such as smart glasses, which are relatively new to the industry, are expected to make this communication even easier in the future (6).

As more millennials enter the workforce, pharma manufacturers may move toward using more IIoT technologies, but Blanchette says the industry is still in early stages of implementation. Ultimately, he says full IIoT implementation will require a collaboration between employees and technology.

“This is an interesting time in that everyone is thinking about [IIoT] now,” Blanchette says. “It’s important to recognize that we’re in early days. Everyone’s still trying to figure it out. It’s good to see that the conversation is as common as it is. We’re at the beginning of a major revolution here, I think it’s really good for the world.”

References

1. World Economic Forum, “Industrial Internet of Things: Unleashing the Potential of Connected Products and Services,” accessed Feb. 28, 2017.
2. J. Markarian, Pharm. Technol. 40 (9) 54–58 (2016).
3. Pew Research Center, “Millennials Surpass Gen Xers as the Largest Generation in the US Labor Force,” accessed Feb. 28, 2017.
4. PwC, “Millennials at Work Reshaping the Workplace,” accessed March 1, 2017.
5. C. Hroncich, Pharm. Technol. 41 (3) 46–50 (2017).
6. J. Markarian “Manufacturing Personnel Try Out Smart Glasses,” accessed March 14, 2017.