A Guest Post by Megan R. Nichols
Some human resources challenges are unique to specific sectors. Others are universal examples of what can go wrong when people work closely in a challenging field. Some HR obstacles are a product of a particular time, place or factor, such as talent shortages or mergers.
Manufacturing entities in the U.S. employ more than 16,300,000 individuals — or around 10.5% of the population. The manufacturing industry is vast, diverse and dynamic. It’s also more susceptible to technological disruption than others.
This industry is in almost constant flux thanks to changing demographics and technologies. That rate of change is one reason why HR specialists in manufacturing must know what the common issues are and how to respond when they arise.
Finding the Right Talent
The 2018 “Skills Gap Report” from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute found that the U.S. manufacturing sector could have 2.4 million open positions to fill by 2028. Failure to find skilled and semi-skilled individuals could carry a total price tag of $454 billion by that same year.
If you want your HR department to get ahead of these expenses, you can do several things:
- Develop relationships with various universities and trade schools to create a talent pipeline.
- Maintain a strong and welcoming presence at career fairs and other events.
- Be clear about the job requirements, company culture, benefits and expectations in all job listings, so employees know what to expect and why it’s a compelling opportunity.
- Hire for “soft skills” like critical thinking and problem-solving, and then further develop the talent you need through onsite apprenticeship programs.
Some manufacturers choose not to do this alone and instead use third-party recruiting services. That’s an entirely valid way to go if you don’t have the time or personnel to solve this in-house.
Eliminating Common Safety Incidents
Fatal manufacturing accidents declined by 28% between 2003 and 2017. Even so, the industry faces hundreds of fatal workplace incidents per year and thousands of nonfatal injuries.
There are several solutions worth considering. Some are more high-tech than others:
- Use technologies like virtual reality and 360-degree video to improve the immersive quality of your training materials and boost information retention.
- Develop a system that awards employees for every interval worked without a safety incident. Incentives include prime parking spots, paid time off, cash bonuses and more.
- Adopt a framework, like Six Sigma, that encourages ongoing analysis of problems and solution development. This type of structure frees you from productivity bottlenecks and helps identify safety-related challenges that arise from poorly conceived workflows.
Some employers are eyeing wearable technologies to track the location and condition of workers. An investment like this could improve response time to safety incidents and head-off exhaustion, heatstroke, sprains and strains, and other preventable injuries.
Improving Employee Engagement
Recruiting skilled and motivated individuals is a major challenge. Retaining them can be almost equally vexing. According to statistics from the payroll services company ADP, manufacturing enjoys a relatively low rate of turnover among industrial sectors. Even so, building a stable and committed workforce requires HR to understand the barriers to engagement and retention:
- ADP notes that the likelihood of employee turnover in manufacturing declines by half after workers put in three years of service. Getting over this “hump” requires employers and HR departments to engage with employees. Create opportunities for cross-training and other chances for personal and professional growth.
- Improve work-life balance and provide a compelling set of benefits. Manufacturing jobs can be physically and mentally taxing. Applicants and recruits want to know they’ll be able to take care of their health and family life even as they remain committed to your organization.
It’s a good idea to celebrate your employees regularly, too. Make a point to recognize and reward star performers. Regularly communicate with your workforce so they understand the connection between their daily responsibilities and the trajectory of the entire company.
Getting Management and Labor on the Same Page
Manufacturing isn’t unique in this, but it’s not uncommon for HR managers to lack subject matter expertise. To truly represent the workforce, your human resources department should understand what you do, how you do it and each department’s and employee’s role in it.
HR’s involvement in business strategy has, traditionally, been an afterthought. Businesses’ needs and context have always informed corporate strategy, which has consistently influenced their HR tactics. But HR can’t be a passive part of this chain any longer — it must take part in policy as well.
A truly “strategic” approach to HR management in manufacturing is one in which the department understands the company’s value chain. That means:
- Understanding compliance and safety requirements completely.
- Bringing company culture and pace into balance with business needs.
- Knowing about each department’s workflows and various employee responsibilities.
- Facilitating effective communication between workers on the floor and upper management when conflicts arise or employees raise concerns or suggestions.
To put it another way, HR departments in manufacturing are more than your compliance police. They must become full-featured “human capital departments.”
There are many ways HR can play a vital role in company strategy and culture. One is knowing how to respond, both quickly and compassionately, when individuals bring news of harassment or hostility in the workplace. HR departments are a resource for workers, and it’s their job to offer a sympathetic ear.
Enhancing HR Strategies Within Manufacturing
When HR departments know the business and its people, they’re in a better position to take employee concerns, complaints and recommendations seriously. They also become collaborators and contributors as you seek process changes to boost the bottom line.
In short, HR can be an overlooked asset in manufacturing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Improving this department’s culture is a way to change the culture — and almost every other aspect — of the whole organization.