Five Ways Manufacturers Can Use Technology to Retain Workers

Five Ways Manufacturers Can Use Technology to Retain Workers
Five Ways Manufacturers Can Use Technology to Retain Workers

Despite predictions late last year that the demand for workers would cool, most manufacturers continue to see attracting and retaining employees as one of their top challenges in 2023. In fact, manufacturing businesses look to fill some 4 million high-skill jobs over the coming decade as older employees retire and smart machines demand new levels of expertise. That is why it’s more important than ever to invest in retaining employees who are digitally savvy and put a higher priority on work-life balance. Here are five ways manufacturers can use technology to create a better work experience that encourages employee loyalty.

Enable remote work with cloud and web-based solutions

Sales, customer service, accounting, and other back-office employees do not need to be at the facility to do their jobs, and manufacturers can gain a number of advantages when they adopt work-from-home policies. Notably, a nine-month study by the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that letting employees work from home increased productivity by 13% and cut attrition rates in half. A case in point is an East Coast manufacturing executive who reported that offering remote work options enabled the company to retain employees with dependent children. Other manufacturers observed that having some staff work from home freed up more of the facility to be used for production, reducing overhead. Meanwhile, modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing software packages are now available as cloud solutions or accessible via web interfaces. So, remote work simply requires a personal computer and a good Internet connection.

Provide on-the-job training at work centers

In their personal lives, employees are used to doing a Google search to quickly get the information they need, and they expect the same efficiency at their jobs. Manufacturers can meet these expectations—and increase overall productivity—by outfitting work centers on the shop floor with intuitive touchscreen interfaces to their manufacturing execution system (MES) software. These interfaces can then be used to display digital workflows for the specific task associated with that work center for a given production run. In this way, the system can guide workers through complex tasks, helping them to get up and running quickly while preventing the most common types of human errors.

Create a common bond via company-wide communications

Having shared information is critical to guiding workers toward common goals and helping them understand their roles and progress in driving the company’s success. Real-time product and process monitoring can provide employees with up-to-the-moment information on current production goals, the status of production runs, and any areas where performance is higher or lower. Using monitors to display these updates on the shop floor ensures visibility. Having data sent to tablets, mobile devices and work centers also helps to ensure that all employees can stay informed of what’s going on during the day. By enabling workers to access data anywhere they need it, manufacturers can also improve employee competency and decision-making, further facilitating their professional growth.

Run lights-out or near-lights-out shifts

Manufacturers often face intense pressure to add third shifts in order to maximize production capacity. However, these late-night shifts are not just unpopular with employees; they are unhealthy. The United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that night shift work disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms, increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. MES solutions facilitate the ability to run lights-out or very lightly staffed operations. They have the real-time production and process monitoring functionality necessary to maintain production records and visibility without onsite personnel. They can also alert management and supervisory staff of issues that arise so corrective actions can be implemented as issues arise during unmanned periods of operation. Manufacturers who run lights-out or near-lights-out shifts can provide incentives to the small teams required onsite, as well as any on-call staff when they need to troubleshoot an issue.

Automate wherever possible to eliminate busy work

It may seem like a statement of the obvious. However, even some manufacturers with the most modern production facilities still rely on manual processes in areas, such as sales and accounting. Consider the manufacturer that maintains individualized pricing for each customer. In the past, it would take an employee up to 120 hours to manually update the pricing for each customer. But since implementing inventory management in its ERP system, the manufacturer has been able to automate most of the work, and the process now typically takes just 2 hours. Facing at least seven materials pricing increases in the last year alone, the company has saved the employee roughly 826 hours of work. This is just one example of how revisiting and automating long-held office practices can lead to greater productivity and employee satisfaction.
By investing today in technology to improve productivity, foster professional development, promote teamwork, and create a better work-life balance, manufacturers will be well positioned to attract and retain the highly skilled workers critical to driving future profitability and growth.

About The Author

Louis Columbus is currently serving as principal of DELMIAWorks. Previous positions include product management at Ingram Cloud, product marketing at iBASEt, Plex Systems, senior analyst at AMR Research (now Gartner), marketing and business development at Cincom Systems, Ingram Micro, a SaaS start-up and at hardware companies. He’s also a member of the Enterprise Irregulars. Professional experience includes marketing, product management, sales and industry analyst roles in the enterprise software and IT industries. Columbus’ academic background includes an MBA from Pepperdine University and completion of the Strategic Marketing Management and Digital Marketing Programs at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He teaches MBA courses in international business, global competitive strategies, international market research, and capstone courses in strategic planning and market research. Columbus has taught at California State University, Fullerton: University of California, Irvine; Marymount University, and Webster University. You can reach him on Twitter at @LouisColumbus.

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