Digitalisation drives innovation and ensures rapid developments in business, also in Human Resources. Companies invest heavily in software solutions, Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS), to capture employee data and support them in their core HR and talent processes. They aim to improve efficiency, facilitate self-service, and minimise the time lost on repetitive, administrative tasks. Ideally, these implementations are beneficial for HR staff as well as the employees. Although that sounds promising, it may not have such a positive impact (yet) on every employee. These digital transformations and HRIS implementations are often designed to support white-collar workers, even though figures show that 80% of the global workforce is desk less. Are blue-collar workers by definition excluded in digital HR transformations?
The term blue-collar worker refers to individuals working in various non-office settings. They are distinguished from white-collar workers, who usually work in an office, behind a desk. Blue-collar jobs usually involve manual labor, typically in manufacturing, construction, mining, or maintenance sectors. Many of their skills are learned while working, as opposed to white-collar jobs, that usually require a higher level of traditional education.
Inclusion is at the heart of the agenda of every HR organisation, however digital HR transformations do not always consider the specific needs of this group of blue-collar workers. The result speaks for itself: lower adoption rates, a higher level of support needed after the go-live, and in the worst case a group of demotivated and unhappy employees. Why do we keep falling into this trap and what are the practical solutions?
It seems that there are several challenges to involve blue-collar workers in digital HR transformations. They are usually not part of the early stages of the transition, when key decisions are made about the tools and process designs. During these stages, the people involved are usually tech savvy, white-collar workers. But also in later stages, during usability tests blue-collar workers are often not included. This automatically leads to considerable bias from the perspective of white-collar workers. And even if blue collar workers are included early on, there are many challenges making it more complicated to cater for their needs. Below we will elaborate on some of the examples.
Access to technology
80% of the Global workforce is desk less. Blue-collar workers may not have access to company provided devices such as computers or mobile phones needed to use digital HR systems and tools. Additionally, they do not always have an IT account and/or corporate email address and therefore will not be able to login into systems.
Blue-collar workers may experience difficulties with using (new) digital HR systems and tools, regardless of how intuitive they may be for a white-collar worker who spends more time behind the computer. Due to limited digital literacy, blue-collar workers could run into technological issues, including difficulties with navigating the HR system.
Some blue-collar workers may experience language and cultural barriers, making it difficult to understand and use the digital HR systems and tools. Also trainings and instruction material sometimes use complex technical terms and abbreviations such as ATS, SaaS and HRIS which makes it harder for them to understand and give feedback.
Resistance to change
Some blue-collar workers may be resistant to digital HR transformations and using new digital HR systems and tools. Although resistance to change is something to come across in almost every digital HR transformation, it is important to realise this resistance may have different root causes. For blue-collar workers, this can be a combination of all the challenges discussed above: due to their level of access to technology, digital literacy or communication barriers, blue-collar workers may feel more comfortable with traditional methods of communication or, for example, time tracking.
Despite the challenges, blue-collar workers make up a substantial part of our workforce and we need to make sure the solutions presented are sustainable – also for them. So, what are successful strategies to make the implementation process as well as the HR technology of choice more inclusive?
Fig. 1 Possible strategies to involve blue-collar workers in digital HR transformations
Clear communication and information
Make sure blue-collar workers are informed about the HR digital transformation plans. Communicate early and regularly about the changes, how this will impact their work and what the benefits are of using the new digital HR systems and tools. In addition to digital communication, consider using traditional communication methods such as printed materials or workshops to ensure that information is accessible and easy to understand for every worker.
Involvement and feedback
Include blue-collar workers in the design and implementation process of the digital HR transformation to ensure that their needs are considered. Furthermore, allow them to test the new digital HR systems and tools and request input and feedback early on to make necessary adjustments to enhance their experiences.
Focus on a solution that is simple to use and that meets blue-collar workers’ unique needs. Design HR systems and tools that are accessible by mobile phone and not just the company provided ones, as this group usually is not eligible to get one, so personal devices need to be supported. Given the fact that blue-collar workers usually do not have access to laptops during work hours, phones might be their main way of accessing the system. Provide a great mobile experience that uses low bandwidth and engage your blue-collar workers with native mobile apps to stay connected wherever work takes them.
Training and support
Provide training and ongoing support to blue-collar workers on how to use digital HR systems and tools. Give clear instructions and explanations, not only during the implementation phase but make sure to have this information always accessible and updated. This will help them to feel at ease utilising these systems and tools to the best extent possible. Blue-collar workers might need more or a different type of support, tailored to their level of expertise and focused on specifically those parts of the system that are relevant to them. Also, blue-collar workers may be more prepared to take part in the digital HR transformation process by receiving training on digital HR solutions. Instead of online trainings, this could be done by for example organising physical walk-in sessions and onsite adoption support to help with the initial set up.
These are just a handful of examples. There are many more challenges and – we like to believe – many more practical solutions to include blue-collar workers and increase the success of your digital HR transformation. At Quintop we know there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to any successful digital HR transformation. We would love to exchange ideas and get the conversation going to learn from each other’s experiences and best practices – feel free to reach out and share your thoughts.
- Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS): HRIS is software that provides HR with employee data to complete core HR processes such as recruiting and time & attendance. An HRIS stores, processes and manages employee data (e.g. name, address etc.) HRIS may offer employee self-service functions.
- Blue-collar workers: Blue-collar workers perform physically taxing manual tasks. Examples of sectors where they are working are manufacturing, agriculture and construction. Blue-collar workers may be skilled or unskilled. Often, they learn their skills on the job or at a trade school. They usually receive hourly wages.
- White-collar workers: White-collar workers often work in office settings. Examples are clerical, management or administrative settings. Often, white-collar workers need post-secondary education, usually with at least a bachelors degree. They usually receive annual salaries.
- ATS: Applicant Tracking System
- SaaS: Software as a Service