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Solving the Labor Shortage Conundrum in Manufacturing

Michelle Igielski, Offering Manager, InSource Solutions | May 1, 2022

A Case for Digital Onboarding & Training 

It is no secret that many industries around the world are struggling with labor shortages.  Especially hit hard have been manufacturers.  I’ve spent just shy of a decade in the food and beverage industry and experienced this firsthand. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported turnover in the manufacturing sector of nearly 40% in 20211. Although that is the average, I also know of manufacturing operations that have experienced turnover rates higher than 50%.  And while there have been recent factors outside of manufacturer’s control (i.e.: Covid), we are not helpless to address this. So, how do we get employees to stay?

Recent data from the Society of Human Resources Management gives us a clue.  Their studies show that a whopping 69% of employees are likely to still be with a company after three years when put through a successful on the job training program2. This tells me that manufacturing companies should be fighting their high turnover rates by investing time and effort into bolstering their employee training programs.

“This is particularly true of impressionable Millennials who may be new to the workforce and unclear about what to expect. Rather than setting new employees up for success, organizations with poor onboarding processes are setting the stage for an early exit.”  – Arlene S. Hirsch, M.A., LCPC

Providing adequate onboarding and training seems relatively straightforward. Making sure each employee has the documentation and assistance needed to effectively perform their job should be second nature to employers by now, right? However, I’ve observed 4 major obstacles:

  1. Getting access to the appropriate level of detailed, contextualized training content.
  2. Ensuring ongoing reference information is current and can be quickly found.
  3. Training is “pushed” rather than “pulled”, resulting in lack of ownership
  4. We believe that we’re so busy, we don’t have time to develop or perform training.

How can we get ahead of this with a more efficient onboarding and training process?   I believe a big part of this answer lies with digitization and the ability of new applications to change the way we train manufacturing employees.

A big part of the answer lies with digitization of training systems

InSource is seeing success with companies who have implemented a product called AVEVA Teamwork.  Teamwork is a one stop shop for standards, training, forms, and general production floor communications.  Operators can easily navigate through the system hierarchy to find the specific operation where they would like training or information, or even search keywords to quickly find reference documentation.  And of course, it’s digital and mobile.  Employees can view training videos placed into the operating standards from their phones or tablets.  So, training is consumed in the context of their work environment which improves retention and ensures tasks are done correctly.  To make things even easier, Teamwork utilizes QR codes that can be attached to a specific machine and easily scanned on the production floor to bring up all relevant information for that piece of equipment – like how restaurants migrated to using QR codes on tabletops for their menu options during the pandemic.

Basic accessibility of training content itself is one big piece of this puzzle. Many plants continue to utilize the same old paper manuals they used prior to computers being widely accessible. Employee onboarding processes still entail having a new hire read through these manuals when beginning their job.  These manuals are located at workstations on the production floor so they can be referenced as needed. However, these manuals are often large and poorly indexed so even if they were read initially, there is no quick way to find the relevant content needed to perform job related activities on an ongoing basis. As a result, this valuable information is rarely referenced while attempting to operate the line, leading to common mistakes causing line downtime, or deviation from company standards.

One of the most overlook challenges of training management is trainee system ownership

One of the most overlooked challenges of training management, which also tends to be the biggest hurdle, is the trainee ownership of the system itself. At times, what manufacturing leaders share with frontline employees can feel more like a ‘push’ in a push/pull system. How much more effective would our training systems be if we could begin to transition that to a ‘pull’ system instead? Teamwork fosters employee awareness through a newsfeed it maintains on its homepage. Users can post about events going on in the workplace, or production issues occurring that they are unable to fix. Should a user post about an issue that they are unable to resolve (Teamwork calls this a call for help), other operators, supervisors, or mechanics can respond with suggested corrective actions. With appropriate approval, this fix can then be translated into a standard or one point lesson that can be saved alongside other training information for future reference. These capabilities give employees a greater understanding of what is going on around them and allow them to truly own their work.

Once companies have the training material digitized, they can effortlessly shift to focus on the training process itself. With the influx in volume of new employees needing training, the resources allocated to site training are having difficulty managing the workload. As a result, key training process activities can fall through the cracks. Activities such as job task verification and feedback are those key pieces in the training process that evaluate employee understanding and engagement.  However, when organizations feel overloaded, reinforcement efforts can be the first to drop. Methods of documenting on the job training status on printed paper, to then be transferred into an Excel database, falls behind, which leads to supervisors and trainers not having an updated training status. However, AVEVA Teamwork provides a solution for this too. Teamwork maintains a digital on the job training skill list that new employees can step through with their trainers and check off skills real-time. Those that are validating that the new employees can perform these skills correctly will receive a notification to validate and lock in the competency of this skill. The Teamwork platform has an out of the box skills matrix that allows supervisors to visually see who and/or how many employees are capable of performing a specific job on any given day or shift. Teamwork allows training resources to focus on the value-added verification and check-in activities, while reducing the time spent sorting through paperwork.

Onboarding digitization can be a catalyst to drive organizations to a new and improved way of working.

AVEVA Teamwork is much more than just a training software solution and and I think you’ll be impressed.  It can be a catalyst to drive organizations to a new and improved way of working. Of course, I recognize that shifting from paper documentation to a completely digital platform takes time and effort but enabling our workers to have everything they need at their fingertips in a matter of seconds is a game changer. Imagine entering routine plant meetings with current knowledge around what is being done to solve issues instead of waiting to use these meeting to start discussing how to solve problems. The barriers can finally be removed between the operator and their learning, awareness, and job ownership. A more proactive organization also lessens the load on training resources and increases employee satisfaction…….and thereby retention.  Streamlining training systems through digitization can go a long way in fighting the labor shortage conundrum. The sooner we start, the better.