As NPR reported recently, manufacturing businesses are turning away work because they don’t have the manpower to satisfy the orders. Factories are juggling shifts to ensure they have the mix of skills needed to maintain output, and there are even anecdotal reports of white-collar workers filling in on the line to keep production running.
\When we take a closer look, there are three main problems revealed:
Many leading manufacturers are using mobile technology to digitally connect factory workers with the information they need to do their jobs better. This provides them with access to knowledge and skills when they need them most directly on the factory floor. As a result, workers feel more empowered and autonomous to complete more value-added tasks. Connected workers can also take charge of their own learning and collaborate with one another which increases motivation and fulfillment.
This blog explains why connecting workers is the key to solving the challenges of labor shortages.
Outdated ideas about factories meant manufacturers were having trouble recruiting before the pandemic hit. The younger generation exploring career options often view factories as dirty, noisy and potentially dangerous. They think factory work is dull and repetitive with little-to-no opportunity for advancement. Even though this doesn’t describe modern manufacturing, it’s their perception and they prefer to work elsewhere.
Explaining the connected worker solution to potential recruits supports hiring efforts by illustrating the true nature of 21st-century manufacturing. As digital natives, the younger generation expects to be involved and to work with digital tools. This is what they get with a connected worker app like Poka which has features to build their engagement including:
By digitally connecting your workforce, workers are put at the top of an inverted organizational pyramid—they ensure production is maintained and everything else is there to support that goal. It’s the true embodiment of Taichi Ohno’s belief that, “People come to Toyota to think, not to work”.
Deploying a connected worker solution like Poka shows that a company is committed to worker learning and development. This is why one client says:
“We routinely mention Poka during our recruiting efforts to attract and retain new factory workers.”
Training is essential for new recruits and for existing workers. For new recruits, they need to learn how to operate machines and use internal systems. For existing workers, they need to expand their current capabilities in order to fulfill professional growth and gain more workforce flexibility.
The problem is that most manufacturers today still use traditional and ineffective forms of training such as job shadowing and in-classroom learning. These forms of traditional training have three major weaknesses:
Poka addresses these issues in several ways. By transforming training into visual guides and video micro-lessons, workers can:
“New operators don’t need to learn everything during onboarding because now we are confident they can find the answers when they need it.”
- Jorn Vroegh, Learning & Development Manager, Danone
Attrition in many factories is very high. Pre-pandemic, some manufacturers were reporting employee turnover levels of 20% or more. More recently, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that 4 million US workers have quit their jobs in July 2021 alone. Manufacturing-specific numbers are hard to find, but anecdotally it seems the problem is only getting worse.
Here are key reasons why new hires are quitting their manufacturing jobs:
This churn is expensive. Both in the direct cost of recruiting and onboarding and in the impact on productivity and quality. With Poka, manufacturers can improve worker retention by:
“Because employees can see their own skills matrix and monitor their progress, they will be motivated to improve.”
- HR Manager, Global Electrical Installations Company
Manufacturers looking for ways to address labour shortages often think in terms of trade school partnerships, recruiting strategies and automation. These are valid tactics but they don’t go to the root of the problem: workers not being engaged.
Factory workers want to think and grow. That will only happen when companies make a strategic commitment to connecting and empowering the place where work happens and building an army of thinkers that are agile, versatile problem solvers. In other words, connected workers. Until then, they will struggle to recruit, train and retain factory workers.