The “Forgotten Workforce” — 80% of Global Workers are Deskless!
Does it surprise us that over 80% of the global workforce are “deskless” workers doing blue collar jobs that don’t typically have the luxury of comfy chairs and air-conditioned chambers? They are out there on field. They are at front (hence the term frontline workers, yes).
In total, there are around 2.7 billion deskfree workers across industries: Agriculture, Education, Healthcare, Retail, Hospitality, Manufacturing, Transportation, and Construction.
What is surprising is that a number so astounding — yes, the figures are true; this is as per the report by Emergence Capital — struggles to get serious takers in Silicon Valleys. Only 1% out of $300 billion in venture capital goes toward software for technologies that improve the frontline industries like construction, manufacturing, and retail.
Still, we are not here to debate on why venture has been conspicuously underfunding the frontline till date. We are here for the solution, not to dissect the intricacies of the problem. Instead of playing the blame game, we could do well to dive deep straight to the root. The best way to make sense out of something is to go with common sense.
Let us admit there’s been a lack of vision (or a resolve) among the businesses regarding the frontline workforce sector. You say no nook or corner has been left unexplored, but conveniently leave a staggering 2.7 billion manpower potential untapped!
Why is Frontline such a difficult industry to manage?
If you are the owner of one such business with frontline deskless workers, there could be a range of factors to keep you up at night:
- Onboarding: A report from SHRM confirms that 1 in every 25 deskless employees leave their job due to poor and incomplete onboarding.
- Employee engagement: According to Gallup, only 13% of the frontline workforce in a blue collar organization feel engaged.
- Effective training: More than 50% of deskless workers do not have access to relevant training, the same source notes.
- Communication: According to a survey from About.com, Over 62% of deskless employees struggle with communication problems across organizations.
Undoubtedly, need of the hour is to institutionalize this process — a professional frontline employee enablement and readiness platform that helps equip and update the deskless workforce with the right skills & training, keeping them engaged at their work to deliver tangible business results.
A Good Problem is a Great Opportunity! You can lead the industry if you take care of these little things about the Frontline:
HR leaders often lament about the lack of loyalty factor associated with the frontline. However, loyalty is not the problem, but the cumulative by-product of all the problems faced by the blue-collar workforce.
If you delve deep, you’ll find it’s really tricky with the frontline jobs — their problems are varied and complicated because they’ve long been neglected:
The Language barriers
As it stands, language is an obvious problem in the blue collar milieu. It directly affects the communication between top level management and the on-field staff who are often not well versed in English.
So, if your offsite construction worker is a Mexican who can barely understand your Californian English accent, how will you convey him at real time there’s a fault line to be repaired?
The only way to deal with such a situation is to invest in technology and use language translation solutions to eliminate communication barriers. The question is, are companies ready for it?
No focus on Content
While many blue collar companies have started investing on technology (from latest smartphones to advanced wearable gadgets), there is still a little or no focus on content whatsoever.
Where is a MOOC for the blue-collar workforce? We are talking about a segment that includes close to 3 billion workers!
No assurance on insurance
Of late, some companies have indeed starting giving the deskfree workers engaging perks, but we still have a long way to go. Considering your frontline workers are always at the front — out there on the field — can you offer them an insurance policy? How about including their family members under the insurance scheme too? Remember we were talking about loyalty, and when your deskfree workers feel assured there is someone to look after their family, loyalty will come out from them as a natural obligation.
No assurance on job security
Right now, as we speak, there is a panic regarding automation taking over jobs in future. The blue collar on-ground workforce is in constant fears about the lack of job security.
Does that mean the future of frontline workforce is in peril? No. Not at all. And the same needs to be conveyed to the workers by the companies. Tell your workforce frontline is a rather complex industry to go automated and AI cannot work end to end there — not where subjective decisions are to be made on inclusive human index scales. At least for our lifetime, unless a Terminator-like ‘I will be back’ situation sees the light of the day.
Because blue collar jobs are mostly about service delivery. Service is a very subjective concept; it requires human intervention with emotional undercurrent.
The need for a professional frontline enablement & readiness platform
By now, we know how critical frontline deskless workers are in the larger scheme of things for a business. They are at ground zero — in direct contact with your customers — and understand the ground realities better than your senior execs who devise annual strategies sitting guarded inside the four walls of AC cubicles.
Your frontline deskless workers are your brand evangelists. Their wellbeing is, therefore, key to your business prospects. They have to be kept enabled and job ready all the time.
When questions arise on the spot, their immediate access to peers and white collar senior execs has to be ensured at real time. This sharing information, sending alerts, and getting real-time answers need a specialized solution these days, that is well thought through.
This is where new age frontline readiness platforms will rule the market as the development of technology solutions for deskless workers can come in different forms. They are the early birds who could dare to venture into this seemingly underfunded market, but could well be seen laughing their way to the banks in coming years.
Smartly Onboard, Actively Engage, Continuously Train..
Frontline is a fragmented industry. But as we saw above, the opportunity to serve the deskless workforce is huge. It continues to grow. In all possibility, multi-billion dollar companies will be created in coming years that serve these workers. This is the next big thing.
That said, the goal is not to get carried away with the hype. Instead of pitching for larger-than-life solutions for the deskfree workers, start with empowering them to become twice as productive at what they do, and allow them to receive recognition for the meaningful work they do (that is more often than not lost in a paper trail).
The idea is to actively ‘engage’ and ‘involve’ your workforce. Facilitate communication across each rank on the organizational ladder. How your frontline deskless staff meet, greet and deliver services to customers could eventually decide the fate of your business.
This is why they need to be kept constantly informed of all business decisions — decisions that are taken inside the CEO’s cabin must reach the last man standing on the ground (they too are part of the same organization, remember). Let each employee be part of every single company-wide announcements & updates. Keep the workforce informed by broadcasting all relevant industry news and feeds. Actively listen to your employees and resolve each grievance timely. Equip them with latest technical equipment that could lessen their workload or expedite their turnaround time.
For eventually, loyalty comes naturally out of those who feel emotionally complete and stable, whether with an individual or a team of workers or an organization as a whole. In case of frontline workers, they were probably denied a university degree that would have fetched them lifelong financial assurance or job stability. As the paradigm starts to shift in 21st century where capability building and skill development seems to override the entitlement that comes with a prestigious degree (that has in a way chronically choked the manufacturing and maintenance in the century gone by), the time is perhaps ripe for the frontline workforce to proclaim their arrival into the mainstream and be the front-leading brand champions organizations were always looking out for. When these 3 billion workers get the technology they need, everyone wins.
All you have to do is to onboard, continuously train, and engage your deskless workers in the way that lets them offshoot their predilection to get tempted and the likelihood of joining the next best blue collar job in the adjacent lane. The good news is, there are now professional readiness solutions specially designed for your frontline workforce.