5 Ways to Overcome the Labor Shortage Crisis in the Manufacturing Workforce

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By Peggy Fonrose - September 17, 2021

Factory managers don’t need to read headlines to know that the labor shortage crisis is impacting manufacturing. Although the labor shortage is looked at as something brought on by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, experts expect that factories will continue to have problems recruiting and retaining workers well beyond 2021.

This can feel like an unsolvable problem when your factory is understaffed and your throughput is low, but there are some steps that managers can take to attract new workers and retain the ones you have.

1. Improve Training to Attract and Retain Your Manufacturing Workforce

Consider the current manufacturing workforce shortage an opportunity to revamp your training and development plans. Take a hard look at what’s working and what’s not—and use this information to develop a solid set of standard operating procedures (SOPs). A comprehensive SOP will help employees know exactly what they need to do to complete each task with maximum efficiency and minimum wasted motion. 

Take a lean manufacturing approach, which means approaching human processes the same way you approach production processes. The same way you can reduce factory waste to increase production, you can reduce training process waste to improve employee processes. Map the value stream of your training programs as you would your production processes.

Look first for factory training redundancies—they can creep up in almost every level of worker training. Ask:

  • Do your training materials or SOPs still include processes for machines that have been replaced?
  • Do all workers get the exact same training under a one-size-fits-all model?
  • Are workers training to use manufacturing technology using printed materials?
  • When was the last time the training materials were updated?

Don’t forget to identify cross-training and skills-gap opportunities. Maximize the talent you currently have. Identify workers who can and wish to increase their skills to create new career opportunities.

Understand the value of each generation.

Recruiters tend to focus on hiring experienced-but-younger people. However, doing so discounts the value that older generations can bring. As Gen Xers enter their 50s, many of them are currently looking for the same work as their millennial counterparts. Don’t discount workers because they’re over 50. This part of the workforce remembers what it was like before the digital revolution, but they can also quite easily adopt new technology.

Gen X employees also value many of the same things as millennial workers, such as using the latest digital factory technology, having room to grow into new career opportunities, and having a safe place to work.  

2. Implement an Employee Recognition Program for the Factory Floor

Employees like to be recognized—it doesn’t matter whether they’re on the factory floor or on the executive floor. If an employee feels appreciated, they are more engaged and more likely to stay at their job. Employee recognition plans motivate workers and give them a better reason to comply with training. Recognizing employees for doing well with training makes them care more.

Create a positive mindset to get the best results.

For lean manufacturing principles to work in factory processes, they must first be applied to the workforce, creating a positive, productive work environment. Use lean principles to develop better training and development programs. It starts with:

  • Creating an environment where people feel open to speak up
  • Brainstorming to come up with a list of prioritized needs
  • Having all stakeholders agree on the goals (e.g.,which training programs are most important)
  • Making workers part of the change and listening to all needs at every step

Make factory-floor training memorable—and fun.

Training programs often use things like webinars, video, and automated subject matter retention tests, along with physical, in-person machine instruction. Although there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, workers have come to expect (and to dread) being bored. Take your current practices and make them more interesting. Here are some ideas:

  • Offer awards and badges.
  • Use storytelling with examples.
  • Involve games with prizes.
  • Give their brains a rest—schedule downtime.

Measure factory floor training.

Is your factory currently using post-training surveys or questionnaires? Asking for feedback after training can often provide insights you hadn’t thought of before and can truly help to improve your factory training. The more involved employees feel, the more effective the results will be.  

3. Ensure a Safe, Healthy, Encouraging Environment for Your Manufacturing Workforce

If factory workers didn’t make health and safety a top priority before the COVID-19 pandemic, then surely they are thinking about it now. There’s more of a spotlight on health and safety than ever before, and workers are more likely now to make employment decisions based on safety. 

Given how the labor shortage is hitting many industries, workers have more options. If they are offered two positions, one at a safety-conscious factory and one at a factory that didn’t really answer their questions about safety, they’re going to choose the first factory.

To make a prospective manufacturing workforce feel confident your factory is serious about safety:

  • Show them around. Take candidates around the factory floor and provide a clear view of safety measures in progress.
  • Provide documentation. Follow up the showing with telling, and let prospects know of the safety materials or SOPs they’ll be given to ensure they’re clear on all processes.
  • Prove compliance. Be transparent and show possible new workers that you’re aware of and in compliance with regulatory organizations—such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the U.S.

4. Use Lean Manufacturing Principles to Enact Change

Lean manufacturing principles can help you get all stakeholders on the same page. They help everyone to identify and prioritize training and safety program improvements.

Worker process deficiencies usually involve wasted talent and missed opportunities. Additionally, human error accounts for waste in a number of factory processes, including overlooking raw material defects and neglecting quality inspections after a changeover. The cause of this type of process waste can usually be tracked to:

  • Poor communication
  • Incomplete training
  • Ineffective policies  

Lean manufacturing principles can help you get all stakeholders on the same page. They help everyone identify and prioritize training and safety program improvements. Applying the same concepts to human processes as you would your factory processes will produce similar results, including identifying unknown causes of downtime and knowing which areas of training are either being ignored—or were never communicated in the first place.

5. Create a Stronger Factory: Maximize Efficiencies by Calculating OEE

Measuring overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) can also help with recruiting and retaining workers. OEE is a measure of how effective your machinery and processes are, but it can also shed light on how well floor employees are following processes.

For example: An employee is responsible for starting up a line machine at a specific time to ensure flawless line production. However, when the employee was trained, the message about how crucial it was to have the machine up and running at that specific time wasn’t clear, and there was no quiz or any kind of assessment testing their knowledge after training. While measuring OEE, the factory manager realizes product misalignment was actually a training problem, not a machine problem.

Find out where hidden wastes and inefficiencies are hiding on your factory floor. Get your copy of our OEE e-book now.New call-to-action

Worximity provides simple realtime technologies to solve food processor pains such as downtime, rejects, waste, overtime; helping them gain profit velocity by improving throughput, yield and OEE.

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