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Workforce Tips for Manufacturers: Part Two

This blog post is part two of a two part series.

In Part One of this series, we discussed the importance of providing formal skills training and having open communication. Click here if you missed it.

Without further ado, here are two more workforce tips:

4) Implement Cross-Training Initiatives

Cross-training is an excellent way to develop a more versatile and flexible workforce. You take an employee with a designated function within your organization, and then start to train him or her in a different role. The goal is to develop this employee’s skills in other departments or capacities so that he or she becomes more well-rounded and adaptable.

Example: Bob works in your company’s marketing department. However, you bring him on the shop floor every Friday at 11:00 a.m. During this time, Cara, an experienced machine operator, trains Bob on how to use a special injection tool. These weekly meetings help Bob develop skills in machine operation over time. Likewise, Cara goes into the marketing department on Tuesdays at 3:00 p.m. to learn marketing tasks. Four key advantages of cross-training include:

  • Maintain Practical Production Levels During Unexpected Orders and Absences – If an employee is gone because of an illness or vacation, you now have a back-up employee(s) who can help complete critical tasks. Using the example above, if Cara catches the flu and is out for the week, or if the company gets a huge order, Bob can step up to the plate during certain parts of the week and assist using the special injection tool.
  • Boost Team Appreciation and Understanding – Employees naturally want to be recognized for achievements, but additionally desire for others to realize the challenges and difficulties related to their positions. During cross-training, employees get a first-hand experience of a coworker’s job, enabling them to build a sense of appreciation for the work of others. “Oh, I never realized so much effort went into Cara’s task of x. How does she do it all?” “Who knew Bob went above and beyond the call of duty to get y completed!”
  • Personal Job Development – In the scenario that neither Bob nor Cara are ever required to temporarily switch departments, this additional knowledge can still enhance their individual job performances. For example, Bob can use his knowledge about the special injection tool to develop new marketing campaigns about its features, attracting new customers.
  • Inspire New Ideas and Efficiencies – Participating in the same routine day in, day out can get “comfortable.” Adding someone new to the mix adds in a fresh perspective, and a new individual can identify previously undiscovered efficiencies. Cara might be able to offer insight into how to solve a marketing problem that Bob was overlooking.

5) Implement a Formal Employee Engagement Program

An employee engagement program is critical to talent retention. Employees leave from time to time for reasons such as moving to another state or retirement. However, losing an all-star employee for preventable reasons hurts you both emotionally and financially. There’s a negative impact on your company culture, and then come the expenses. There’s recruiting and related-administrative costs, lost time from interviewing and training, etc. There’s also lost productivity as your new employee(s) adapts to the learning curve. The time and resources used to recruit and train new team members can be better invested elsewhere.

Develop a program to evaluate your employee’s perception of your company. Do they feel valued and appreciated for their ideas? What are their suggestions for improvements? Unhappy employees can be just as damaging to a business’ bottom-line as poor products or processes.

The little things can go a long way. Quarterly out-of-office team building and networking dinners can be fun and boost team morale. Simple stuff like “waffle Wednesdays every month” can generate some laughs and a feeling of goodwill or once a month, have a mixer where members from different departments meet up in a relaxed atmosphere. The positive rapport and enhanced morale will make up for lost time on the job.

For more information about MEP workforce programs, click here, contact your local MEP center or NIST MEP’s mary.pacelli [at] (Mary Ann Pacelli).

About the author

Mary Ann Pacelli

Mary Ann Pacelli, M.Ed., is the Division Chief for Network Learning and Strategic Competitions with the NIST Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).  In this role, Mary Ann oversees the special competitions award process and the development and implementation of a plan for Learning and Knowledge Sharing across the National Network.  Recently Mary Ann was the Program Manager, Workforce Development, at MEP for over 4 years.  Her work included advocating for Manufacturing Workforce priorities with related federal agencies and providing technical support to the network of MEP centers across the country for workforce related activities.  In addition, she manages special MEP projects, and coordinates the Workforce Directors of the Manufacturing USA Institute Network, on behalf of the NIST Advanced Manufacturing Program Office. 

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Mary Ann, your recommendations for "putting people first" are spot on, especially if we redirect the focus of the last one, implement an employee engagement program. Engagement isn't a "program;" it's a set of day-to-day actions, many of which are embodied in your other four recommendations. Social activities like breakfasts are fun and important but they're only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to truly engaging people. It's too easy to substitute events for the heavier lifting required for the factors you wrote about that really engage: professional development, cross-training, communication, and feedback, among others.
Lynn, Thanks for your comments. Yes, Employee Engagement is not a program it should be a way of life! the 'heavy lifting' of professional development, training, communication, feedback need to be integrated/in-grained into our daily routines. adding the 'fun' stuff--breakfasts, events...-- is a way to celebrate and adds the 'glue' to the engagement efforts. We are getting started here at MEP with some re-alignment and ramping up engagement efforts ourselves! Fortunately, we have a strong leader who recognizes the value of employee input and engagement. Been in organizational development consulting many years, and leadership engagement is the key!

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