User Onboarding

The better way of onboarding Blue Collar Workers: Visual Instructions

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    Home / User Onboarding / The better way of onboarding Blue Collar Workers: Visual Instructions

    There is an issue that might concern companies worldwide:

    As technology and automation take over many areas of innovation, part of the global workforce can feel alienated or threatened by a sense of impending redundancy.

    Large sectors have not seen the innovation we might expect: 2.7 billion employees worldwide – 80 percent of the global workforce – do not use a desk, yet only an estimated 1 percent of enterprise software funding has gone towards hourly work. 

    reported by Just Entrepreneurs

    Technology is a powerful tool that should empower workers in every field, and the demand for digital onboarding for blue-collar workers is growing. 

    Let’s lay down the basics: Blue-collar workers and Onboarding

    What is a blue collar worker?

    The term “blue-collar worker” refers, according to Cambridge dictionary, to workers that are: 

    “(...) engaged in manual work, who by tradition wore blue overalls to a job in a factory. Blue-collar workers can be unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled but they have in common their experience of working with their hands in an industrial enterprise. Blue-collar workers once formed the core of the traditional working class, but they have declined sharply as a percentage of the workforce as a result of the shift towards service-based employment.”

    In short, blue-collar is a term most often describing workers that are not working at a desk in a traditional office setting. By opposition to white-collar workers (mainly working in offices), blue-collar jobs entail largely manual labor.

    What is onboarding?

    Onboarding refers to “the action or process of integrating a new employee into an organization” (Oxford dictionary). 

    user onboarding employee

    Onboarding employees is vital to ensure proper adoption from new hires, whether it is training on the tasks they will be conducting, understanding health and safety policies or developing their skills in the long run.

    But it also has hefty financial implications for organizations.

    Indeed and as reported by HNI, hiring is an expensive process that onboarding can have a massive impact on.

    The cost of hiring a new employee, between the administrative, legal, and material costs, can reach $7.000. Research shows that an employee completing a structured onboarding is 58% more likely to stay at the company for at least three years. On top of that, it has also been shown that new hire retention is heavily impacted by the first six months of employment, with 86% of employees deciding whether to stay or leave their role in that timeframe

    Proper onboarding strategy is paramount to ensure new hires feel adequately welcomed in their new role, have access to the right tools, training, and resources, and for the company to get a positive return on their investment. 

    So how does that relate to blue-collar workers?

    Traditionally, blue-collar workers are onboarded on the job, with a blended approach of direct training and paper-based resources. However, in this day and age, we believe there’s no excuse for handing new employees a massive training handbook and calling it a day. 

    What’s wrong with traditional paper or PDF instructions?

    Bad instructions lead to a number of issues, from loss of productivity to safety issues and bad morale among employees.

    It has been shown that 90% of paper and PDF instructions fail to provide a satisfactory solution for their users. Relying on them isn’t appropriate for blue-collar jobs for a variety of reasons:

    • Hard to understand: Written instructions lack context and are more often than not walls of text, which can be confusing and hard to understand quickly.
    • Impersonal: Paper instructions are providing a “one-size-fits-all” format, regardless of individual employees native language for example.
    • Difficult to update: These documents are hard to update by nature. Once printed or saved, they need to be collected, replaced and distributed again if any update is warranted. How often have you seen older, irrelevant instructions laying around in your professional life?
    • One-way street: Traditional instructions are not what you would call a conversation starter. They’re handed to employees, and because feedback is usually difficult to provide seamlessly, it usually stops there until the next edition.
    • Impossible to track: Paper and PDF instructions are basically in the wild once distributed to workers. This can be an issue for privacy reasons, but mostly to measure their efficiency and usage, which is virtually impossible.
    • Expensive: Instruction handbooks are a pain to create, take a long time and require resources that can cost a lot of money such as hiring consultants or specialists. In the case of paper instructions, the cost of printing is also not negligible. 

    So while paper and PDF instructions have served a purpose for years, digital and visual work instructions are a modern option that presents many advantages. 

    employee onboarding

    What are digital and visual work instructions?

    Digital and visual work instructions are virtual documents providing guidance to workers on how to conduct tasks, in a digital form.

    Contrary to traditional, text-based instructions, they have a user-friendly format focused on visuals: images, photos, videos or even 3d models. They can also be accessed from mobile phones, tablets, computers and other smart devices.

    Swipeguide reports that human errors account for 9 out of 10 incidents in the workplace.

    We believe a lot of these errors could be avoided by providing accurate documentation to blue-collar workers using visual instructions. They not only help with clarity but also empower workers to learn on interactive devices, at their own speed, and in their own language.

    Let’s take a look at a few examples:

    Visual work instruction examples

    Example one: Userguiding brings in the Interactivity

    In this example created with Userguiding, the South African hand-to-hand courier service RAM has put together a step-by-step visual guide for their employees. Read the success story here.

    They created and used a character named SAM to guide employees throughout the onboarding, using personal, human interaction as a way for trainees to connect with the content.

    employee onboarding example

    PS: A step-by-step interactive guide is the best way to digitally onboard employees to your platform, and UserGuiding can help you do just that!

    Example 2: Tulip

    In this example from the Tulip platform, we can see that the instructions are focused on highly detailed pictures for a very meticulous task, and appear to follow a step-by-step process. This is a great example of a visual instruction with a minimal amount of text, and the possibility for the user to call for help, at the bottom of the screen.

    visual work instruction example

    Example 3: Dozuki

    In this example of visual instructions from Dozuki, we can see that the task at hand is represented using pictures from different angles, with a text explaining each step. This specific screen includes a multiple-choice field for the workers to provide information on their work, and the instruction to call for a supervisor to review it.

    worker instruction example

    The advantages of digital and visual instructions for blue-collar workers

    By digitizing the onboarding process for blue-collar workers, organizations have the opportunity to get rid of paper and PDF instructions and benefit from many advantages offered by a digital format:

    • Easy to understand: By providing step-by-step processes and interactive visuals, digital instructions can communicate information more accurately and efficiently to workers, allowing them to follow along.
    • Personal: Digital instructions can easily be adapted to each user, whether it is translated in their native language, or providing more visuals if necessary for example.
    • Easy to update: Hosted in the cloud, digital instructions can be updated seamlessly whenever needed across the entire organization, without having to recall handbooks or painfully ensure that everyone has moved over to the latest version.
    • Feedback-friendly: Because of the digital nature of the instructions, employees can easily provide feedback and comments, helping management improve and correct mistakes if necessary.  
    • Ability to measure: This is particularly useful insight for organizations, now able to measure and track the usage of their onboarding material, in order to improve and optimize processes. 
    • Sustainable: It’s worth mentioning that digitalization also prevents waste and allows companies to minimize printing and other wasteful practices.
    • Affordable: While writing a manual handbook is a long, costly process requiring external help, coming up with a digital onboarding process can be managed internally, involving employees that are directly conducting these tasks, by using software such as UserGuiding

    If digital onboarding for blue-collar workers seems like a no-brainer, there are still things you want to consider before throwing away your manuals and going headfirst into a brand new strategy.

    The challenges of onboarding blue-collar workers digitally

    Although it makes a lot of sense as we’ve seen so far, implementing a successful onboarding for blue-collar workers involves unique challenges that organizations need to be aware of:

    • Computer literacy: A large number of older blue-collar workers might not be as tech-savvy as newer generations. This will require a transitional period and possibly some training.
    • Logistical challenges: Blue-collar workers are often hired in large groups at the same time, causing challenges to onboard and train them simultaneously. Digital onboarding will help thanks to its scalability but the processes need to be in place to ensure a smooth ride.
    • Cultural aspects: In traditional industries, implementing a digital onboarding strategy might take some effort on the management side to familiarize teams with the approach and reassure workers. 

    For these reasons and because blue-collar work often involves dangerous/technical skills that require in-person training, a blended approach to onboarding might be the best. It could involve a blend of shadowing, mentoring, and in-person technical training coupled with visual and digital instructions that employees could use on their own.

    Now that we’ve learned what visual instructions are and why they are a good fit for blue-collar workers, let’s examine how to create them!

    visual work instructions

    How to create effective visual work instructions

    In order to create visual instructions that work and stick with employees, there are a number of best practices and guidelines you can follow. Here are 10 steps to create effective visual instructions for blue-collar workers:

    1. Step-by-step: Using a step-by-step approach is the best way to allow workers to follow along with the instructions.
    2. Specify the goal: As in every task, it’s important to highlight the goal we’re trying to achieve. This will make the person following the instructions more involved and aware of where the steps are heading.
    3. Visual first, Text second: This could have been number one. Visual instructions need to focus on -you guessed it- visuals! The choice of visuals should fit the task: Images, tables, charts, photographs, videos, gifs… You have a wide array of choices available to provide an experience as clear as possible.
    4. Consider your audience: As we’ve discussed earlier in the article, blue-collar workers are not a monolith and can go from unskilled to highly skilled professionals. The choice of visuals and instructions will depend on their profile and their job, whether their tasks are best explained in a video or need a more complex breakdown using schematics for example.
    5. The tone of voice: An active tone of voice will help engage the reader, providing clear instructions using action verbs, describing how to execute the task at hand.
    6. Keep it Simple: Since the visuals are at the center of the instructions, keeping text elements as simple and concise as possible is best. They should only be complimenting the visuals and provide the necessary information.
    7. All in the details: While it might seem contradictory with the previous point, it isn’t. Instructions must be clear and simple, but also detailed enough that a worker can follow them without a doubt or requiring additional help. This is only achievable by providing the right amount of details, either by including various angles or breaking down the explanation in more steps for example.
    8. Involve stakeholders: Knowing what to include in the instructions and how to explain it best necessarily comes by involving the right stakeholders in their creation. Traditionally, mentoring and hierarchy are strong components of blue-collar fields, and involving the right people will not only ensure that the correct information is passed down to the new hires but also facilitate adoption.
    9. Consistency: To ensure a pleasant training experience and avoid confusion, you must aim for consistency in your onboarding materials. From the format to the language, the quality, and the content, a uniformed knowledge base will reduce friction and allow for a steady learning curve among workers.
    10. Test, Test, Test: Finally, once your instructions are live and used by workers, their digital nature will allow not only for usage tracking but also for feedback collection. This will allow the organization to constantly update and improve the onboarding experience for new hires as time progresses. 

    If you follow these steps and most importantly iterate your process, considering workers' feedback and how efficient the instructions are, you will surely see strong benefits. Remember, it’s worth it:

    "62% of companies with effective onboarding programs have a higher time-to-productivity ratio and a 54% increase in employee engagement."

    (source: techjury)


    Visual instructions are a great option for onboarding blue-collar workers, allowing for a more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable choice.

    We hope that you’ve learned more about them and are ready to try creating your own right now!

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