Two solutions for manufacturing workforce shortages, a contrarian approach.

  • Apply simple Automation to realize more efficient manpower utilization.
  • Create entry-level evaluative value-added jobs.

Are you continually searching for qualified employees in your manufacturing plant?

And when I say qualified, I mean technically and interpersonally proficient. It has become increasingly more and more difficult to find entry-level employees who have the right knowledge base and work attitude. Not only is it difficult to hire technically capable people to operate manufacturing machinery and/or to perform assembly tasks, it is also a challenge to find individuals with the right “soft” skills necessary to work in a manufacturing environment.

Working in teams, being personally motivated and accountable, and simply showing up for work on time are just some of the missing qualities of today’s candidates. Only a very small percentage of the entry level-manufacturing candidates have the right mix to sustain plant dynamics and drive future growth.

Today much is being done relative to the technical skills by many local, state, and federal educational institutions. For example here in Tennessee, community colleges are providing free two-year technical degrees to qualified high school graduates. Universities are also creating awareness of future job opportunities and adapting their curriculum accordingly. The academic front is beginning to “re-fill” the pipeline, but clearly, shortages exist today and will likely continue.

Based on the November 2015 survey by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Research Foundation of Small Business Owners, 55% reported hiring or trying to hire new qualified employees. Yet 47% reported little to no qualified applicants available for the open positions. Based on the same survey; owners have implemented higher starting salaries to draw more qualified employees. They’ve even supplemented with temporary workers to fill the gaps.

Although supply and demand dynamics may warrant compensation increases and temporary workers can be utilized, there are other strategies that should also be pursued.

The application of “simple low-cost automation” can allow you to redesign the work structure of your employees, increase output per employee, and provide for a means to evaluate and train new entry-level employees.

Typical stand-alone robot arms with welding packages cost between $28,000 and $40,000. A pre-engineered work cell with safety equipment starts at about $50,000. Properly implemented, these simple forms of automation can result in 2 people producing an equivalent level of products as 3 to 4 employees currently. This strategic move in itself can allow you to improve your manufacturing capacity without adding employees and realize a strong ROI from the upfront costs.

Additionally, redesign work content to include more simple tasks such as retrieving tools and supplies, moving finished products to staging areas, or simply cleaning equipment. This reassignment of tasks can further improve the effectiveness of your skilled, well-trained employees. These simplified jobs can be used as work for under-skilled entry-level employees. Although this activity may temporarily move you away from your lean manufacturing objectives, it does allow your company a means to hire, evaluate and train new employees.

Clearly, small manufacturers will continue to struggle with employee shortages as they try to prepare for future growth. Manufacturers must offset the obvious shortage of capable employees and simultaneously prepare your organization for future growth in sales and for the growth of your profit margin. The two strategies above are great low-cost simple solutions that if implemented could net big gains.



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