The problem? It’s projected to get worse.
Since news broke that US manufacturing is on track to have 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, there have been numerous attempts to address it — additional incentives, a lower barrier of entry, and a more diverse workforce.
But none of these address the root issue. There are simply fewer skilled workers available and the competition to recruit them is high.
Manufacturers need to focus on championing the staff who are still employed and improving their current operational efficiency. Thankfully, there are a number of proven solutions.
1. Industry 4.0 and Automation
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, refers to the marriage of smart technology, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to deliver real-time improvements in manufacturing and supply chain management.
In short, advances in production technology typically reduce firm costs and provide greater visibility across your organization, which results in a more flexible, agile, and efficient operation.
Many manufacturers that embraced digital transformation learned they could make the jobs of their current staff easier, even if they had fewer workers or resources.
As the staffing shortage continues to ravage the industry, a more connected shop floor won’t just free your workers to focus on more important tasks, it will also reduce hiring obstacles when it comes to entry-level jobs.
2. Connected Shop Floors and Real-time Data
Understanding key drivers has always been a critical component to manufacturing success. But data collection has historically been too slow to support making operational decisions based on the data. As a result, managers have to prioritize without the right insights. Combined, these two activities account for about 33% of all time spent working in the United States.
Manufacturers need more information to be delivered in real-time so they have what they need to make better business decisions.
Thankfully, there are programs like Microsoft Power BI and other data visualization tools that help to bridge the gap between the shop floor and the top floor by giving meaning to the numbers and presenting them in a more digestible format.
This presents organizations with the opportunity to combine their historical data and real-time analytics to overcome the challenges of a depleted workforce.
Automated data collection and processing can now improve capacity planning and help you allocate resources to address weaker areas in your operation. It then helps you figure out what positions the company needs to prioritize in order to drive higher OEE and overall throughput.
3. ERP Systems
As more companies update their legacy systems and gain instant access to data, they quickly realize they need to house all that information in a single location.
The best solution to that is organizing all your business processes in an Enterprise Resources Planning system (ERP).
An ERP runs on the cloud and allows you to manage and automate your supply chain, operations, and finances from a single easy-to-access point. It also allows you to access that data from any location and across any device.
That makes it more convenient to organize and track time, labor, and production so you can reprioritize your workforce.
4. Flexible Schedules
The pandemic caused a global shift in how we live and work. Families now spend a lot more time at home, especially if they have children.
As a result, companies are adopting a hybrid work model where people could balance work at the office and from remote locations.
This has worked so well in other industries that not only have people felt more productive and enjoyed a more comfortable work-life balance, almost 47% of US adults would quit their jobs if they weren’t given the freedom of a flexible work environment.
The issue for manufacturers is that some parts of the job require you to be on site.
While there are mixed reality solutions that enable remote workers to function like they’re “on-site” providing real-time support and eliminating costly travel, offering a flexible schedule will go a long way to supporting them as well. This will not only help you retain your workers but also enable you to attract young, skilled labor.
5. Better Onboarding and Continued Education
As tough as the staffing shortage is, more than 30% of new hires quit within their first six months on the job. The majority of them were unhappy with how their onboarding process was handled.
Some of their biggest concerns included:
- Poor communication over what their responsibilities were
- A lack of effective training
- Absent, ineffective, or abrasive managers
The overwhelming response as to what new hires were hoping for? On-the-job training. They want to feel connected to the company as soon as they join.
That means getting a tour of the facility, having a direct line of contact with a mentor or “buddy” co-worker, and developing a firm understanding of the company’s policies and vision.
Unfortunately, a lot of those things can take a while to organize. But with automated workflows, notifications can be sent to alert HR whenever they need to take action.
That way you wouldn’t have to completely refresh the onboarding process. It would simply make it more convenient for everyone.
The Real Solution to the Manufacturing Staffing Shortage
In the middle of a skilled workforce shortage, the worst thing that could happen is you lose the valuable employees you already invested in. More manufacturers need to focus on retaining and supporting their current staff.
Leveraging technology can be the best way to accomplish this. Not only will this help remove time-consuming tasks from the regular day-to-day, but it will also help improve your company's overall efficiency and bottom line.
It also makes your company more attractive to potential prospects. That’s because they know you have a system in place to support a flexible schedule, offer a better onboarding experience, and demonstrate there is room for their individual growth.
The manufacturing staffing shortage isn’t going away any time soon, so it’s critical that manufacturers leverage available technology to fill the gaps. Productivity doesn’t need to suffer when short on manpower; you just need to embrace these (not so) hidden solutions to the staffing crunch to keep your organization running smoothly and efficiently.