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Sep 15, 2021 Rebecca Nguyen

How to Recruit, Train and Retain Workers in Manufacturing

Let's take a look at how connected worker technology can help manufacturers address the labor shortage in today's environment.

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:

  • Recruiting — it’s hard to find and attract qualified candidates
  • Training — when there are new hires, getting them up to speed requires on-the-job shadowing which takes experienced workers away from their primary duties (and more recruitment magnifies the problem)
  • Retaining — workers who are dissatisfied with their current roles are able to take positions elsewhere

What’s the solution?

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 it 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.

Read Our "Skills Management and Development Re-Invented for the Factory Floor" E-Book

How Connecting Workers Supports Recruiting

Outdated ideas about factories meant manufacturers were having trouble recruiting before the pandemic hit.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: 

  • A Factory Feed for sharing information and collaborating to solve problems
  • Micro-videos for training and skills development
  • Digital work instructions and guides accessible by scanning a QR code

By digitally connecting workers, 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 workers.”

How Connecting Workers Supports Training

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:

  • Takes experienced workers away from their principal duties and reduces their overall effectiveness.
  • Relies on experienced workers sharing the “standard” ways of doing things, which seldom happens. Instead, they tend to share good and bad shortcuts that they’ve learned or acquired, which leads to more process variability.
  • It’s expensive. One Poka client calculated the cost of onboarding and upskilling in a 400 employee factory at €110K ($130k) per year.

Poka addresses these issues in several ways. By transforming training into visual guides and video micro-lessons, workers can: 

  • Drive performance - improve safety, quality, and OEE through continuous learning
  • Access training when they need it directly on the factory floor 
  • Improve comprehension - videos and photos leave less room for interpretation

“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

How Connecting Workers Supports Worker Retention

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: 

  • Job monotony
  • High expectations and insufficient support (especially on 3rd shift where most new hires start)
  • Overwhelmed by the amount to learn
  • Not empowered to act
  • Poor instruction or none at all

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:

  • Supporting skills development and growth, which helps make jobs easier and more interesting
  • Giving workers visibility into their skills and learning plan
  • Letting workers learn at their own pace
  • Delivering training just-in-time and at point-of-need rather than through shadowing and classes
  • Making it easy to share knowledge and collaborate with others to solve problems
  • Creating a sense of purpose and motivation to contribute to improving production by connecting workers across shifts and even plants

“Because employees can see their own skills matrix and monitor their progress, they will be motivated to improve.”

- HR Manager, Global Electrical Installations Company

Conclusion

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.

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