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14 min read
A New Model For Manufacturing Hiring
Constraint, Currency & Clarity
What invention had the most profound impact on manufacturing hiring?
Not the steam engine. Not the assembly line. Not lean practices. Not robotics.
The answer is, the incandescent light bulb.
Thanks to this revolutionary innovation, the workplace could now expand temporally. Now factories could have second and third shift workers to man the lines at all times of the day and night.
Unfortunately, what companies gained in production output, they lost in morale and retention. Just because factories could stay open longer didn’t mean they should. As it states in the informative book, Faster, Better, Cheaper In The History of Manufacturing:
“Electric light allowed the factory owner to extend working hours to potentially around the clocks, limited only by the endurance of the employees. However, longer work hours using electric light often burned out the employees, in turn leading to strikes.”
The operative word in that passage is “burn out.” Nineteenth century manufacturers, during the height of the industrial revolution, were causing excessive and prolonged stress for their frontline workers.
The good news: Today’s floor conditions are disproportionately better.
The stigma about the manufacturing workplace as a dirty and dark and dangerous place is an outdated narrative. Here at Dozuki, we spend a significant portion of our time doing site visits, and many of the facilities are truly extraordinary. Clean, bright, streamlined and even joyful. They don’t look anything like the factories we read in the history books or see in the movies.
The bad news: Non-manufacturers are competing with more flexible job openings.
Employees now have the opportunity to work from home, keep flexible schedules and accommodate their evolving lifestyle needs. In the tech industry in particular, remote work and telecommuting have constituted a major organizational transformation across many industries. During the pandemic, companies expected a drop in remote worker productivity, but the opposite turned out to be true.
Manufacturing has not moved in that direction in terms of flexibility. Very few companies are adapting to this workforce trend. Their hiring model is stuck in the past. And it’s ineffective when the economy is in a buyer’s market like it is now.
Below, I will introduce a new model for manufacturing hiring. It’s based on my many years of experience working in the manufacturing industry; but also from my entrepreneurial history co-founding Dozuki, a company where we’ve built a flexible, productive and happy culture that we’re proud of.
The three strategies are: Constraint, Currency and Clarity.
Think of each one as an organizational lightbulb to help illuminate your workforce. These bright ideas will help your company become the preferred destination for the frontline of the future.
Bright Idea #1: Constraint
Do you believe the forty hour work week is a hundred year old relic left over from factories of the industrial age? That may sound cynical, but it points to difficult but critical questions every manufacturing company should ask:
- How many hours do your people need to be productive?
- How could frontline shifts be run to optimize for flexibility?
- What constraints might help you get high performance out of people?
Working 9-5 or 7-3, these schedules were byproducts of the old industrial mindset. Union organizers were fighting against an even worse work schedule. Mostly, those specific times were based around when there was available light in the factory. Today’s manufacturers are way past that now, with most facilities offering multiple shifts.
But consider the constraints in play.
Dozuki has many customers in the food and beverage industry, and their facilities have materials coming in, every day, at the same time. These plants need people working at those times so they can convert raw materials into goods and get them out the door.
In order for them to be more flexible, companies would have to change the way they operate, and their suppliers must be willing to adapt.
But that’s a good thing. Companies could hire based on hyper specific shifts. They could offer jobs to seasonal or part time workers and plug the leaky hiring bucket.
Another constraint is customers. One of our beverage manufacturing customers recently had a downtime event for seven hours. They had a huge order for WalMart, and ended up having to run an overtime shift on a Saturday to hit production targets.
But what if that constraint was a blessing in disguise? What if a small subset of the employee base had unique working arrangements?
Perhaps there’s a way to use a few dozen employees for such a scenario. They could even start their own line. There’s no reason you can’t create shifts within shifts. Constraints might set you free.Bright Idea #2: Currency
Frontline teams can ramp up quickly and empower workers to leverage limited amounts of time, energy, manpower and other resources. You simply have to understand what it is that people value most. What their currency is.
In a recent episode of The Voices of Manufacturing Podcast, Kawasaki Motors told us a story that we couldn’t believe. Their factory started hiring college football players to use their skills from the defensive line, to build motorcycles on the assembly line.
These athletes only worked a few months a year, seven hours a day. But the opportunity was framed around their currencies:
Working hard, earning money, staying fit, being leaders and solving problems together as a unit.
That’s why Tim and Jake at Kawasaki were able to justify the investment in training these new student workers. They needed minimal oversight. And in fact, the employer brand awareness the story garnered when it went viral in the news was worth its weight in gold.
Here's what Tim said about it:
Promoting success stories like this could help manufacturers improve their reputation in the job market and become a talent magnet.
Assembly Magazine wrote a feature article on Tim and Jake’s story, and now their hiring strategy has traveled well beyond their hometown. Imagine if industry publications were to share your unique approach to hiring. You would gain untold amounts of social proof and instant credibility with job applications; not to mention make your frontline feel like celebrities in an otherwise under-promoted occupation.
Other manufacturers can adopt this same philosophy. Maybe there are other small communities like the student football players. Like parents looking to rejoin the workforce while their kids are at school, or retirees seeking part time employment. What about discharged military personnel or even formerly incarcerated individuals? Imagine the positive impact it could have on the employer brand. Talk about currency.
Each of these populations have unique currencies, from time to money to flexibility to skill development to status. Center your job descriptions, applications and interviews around those pillars. Meet them where they are.
The outcome of this idea of currency is loyalty, which is a missing piece for far too many manufacturers. They don’t have the retention they’re looking for. Frontline workers will learn they can work somewhere else for the same amount of money or more, and are jumping ship.
True story: One plant manager Dozuki consults with recently told us that he loses operators to other local manufacturers over a $1/hr difference. A dollar an hour! Guess it’s clear what currency they value.
What are you doing to earn loyalty? What unique benefits and schedules are you offering to new hires? It starts with a higher willingness to accommodate people’s needs. That could be your competitive advantage over, say, working at a restaurant or local auto shop.
According to a new study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, the manufacturing workforce shortage in the U.S. could result in two million unfilled jobs by 2030. Combined within that trend is a shifting set of priorities in our culture. Certainly in light of the pandemic, younger generations’ desires for money, power, status and more are replaced by values such as flexibility and work life balance.
And smart manufacturers are giving them what they want. Rather than forcing the old ways of operating with rigid structure and hours, they’re adapting to evolving currencies.
Bright Idea #3: Clarity
How do you differentiate your company from the other places an operator can go to work? The answer is clarity. Give employees a clear path to develop and move up in their professional journeys.
Apprenticeship programs are one strategy for this, particularly with students. As of the writing of this article, The National Apprenticeship Act is sitting with the senate. This bill would enable states to develop and fund apprenticeship programs that align with the needs of the state’s employers. Now, this is a long term (at least 5-8 yrs) solution and not a silver bullet for the current skills gap.
The good news is, many states may already have their own programs to assist employers with funding of apprenticeship programs. There is a high amount of structure needed to meet the approved apprenticeship requirements. Including documented training plans, a way to prove competency, and an established method to track and report training/work hours.
But if manufacturers are using Frontline Digital Transformation (FDX) tools, then all of those requirements are easy. With the swipe of a screen and a click of a button, documenting and tracking your training is easy, fast and ubiquitous.
Another strategy to introduce greater clarity in hiring is via training.
The stronger your workforce guidance is, the more compelling your job offer will be.
If a young frontline worker sees that her first three weeks of onboarding are solely based around a job shadowing a veteran on the floor, it’s a tough sell. Whereas if you have standard processes, work instructions that are easy to follow from a mobile device and engaging training modules, the job opening is more attractive.
One of our customers, a training specialist at a Fortune 500 food company, always talks about how his younger employees value having a tablet with them during training. He says it gives them a way to interact with the process in real time, rather than just listening to a trainer or experienced employee do a PowerPoint presentation.
Dozuki customers pride themselves on providing frontline workers with structured, well planned training. They use our software to show them the path to advancement, starting on day one of their job. The program is more than just work instructions or company wikis, it’s a holistic employee development portal. Part of our mission is to help manufacturers and their people grow into the most productive and focused versions of themselves.
The reason clarity has such an impact on manufacturing hiring is, there are too many viable career paths for low skilled workers to be treated like a cog in the machine. We see this all the time with companies like Chick-fil-A, which pays $22/hour. Meanwhile, some of their competing manufacturer employers are only offering $15/hour.
Pay matters, and you have to recognize that you have to pay more. Make sure your organization isn’t too focused on driving efficiencies that you’re driving it on the backs of the people who can get employed for more money elsewhere.
Steve Jobs, in his now legendary interview about quality management, summarized it:
“These people are very smart. They're not pawns. And if given the opportunity to change and improve, they will. They will improve the processes if there's a mechanism for it.”
Gen-Z and Millennials don’t want to be told what to do, they want to be part of the process and contribute. If you say, hey, go do this job (over and over again!) they won’t want to stay at your facility, since they’re not growing and contributing in a meaningful way. Only clarity can provide that end frame to which they can aspire.
Remember: Constraint, Currency and Clarity.
Each of these hiring strategies is an organizational lightbulb to help illuminate your workforce.
These bright ideas are certain to help your facility become the preferred destination for the frontline of the future.
Written by Brian Sallee
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