Employees want flexibility. Here are five ways manufacturers can provide it.

Amazon offers flexible and remote working. Target promotes an “on-demand” schedule allowing teammates to work as infrequently as once every six months. Some companies, like Kickstarter, are rolling out a four-day work week. And then there’s the ever-growing gig economy, allowing workers the ultimate flexible schedule.

So how will manufacturing companies, whose workers are traditionally tied to fixed shifts along the production line, compete?

Manufacturers, of course, are unable to offer remote work. But that doesn’t mean they can’t make changes to introduce more flexibility. In fact, my colleague Matt Fieldman, executive director of MAGNET’s America Works program, says it’s a must if the industry is to compete and win the war for talent.

“We need to poach Uber. We need to poach DoorDash and Instacart,” Fieldman says. “We need to poach these workers and say, hey, we can compete on flexibility – and oh yeah, we’ll pay you more, you don’t have to drive your own car and you’ll have real colleagues.”

Labor flexibility can take many forms. It also tends to be plant specific – companies will naturally gravitate towards certain approaches while rejecting others. Here are some ways to introduce employee flexibility today and get your business on the right track.

1. Introduce new shift permutations

Here’s what one manufacturer is doing: Rather than confining people to five- or eight-hour shifts, they’ve opened up new options. In addition to a traditional schedule, workers can work three 12-hour days a week or work part-time and cut 10 four-hour shifts every two weeks (which many manufacturers could easily do).

Here’s what another well-known company is sticking to: requiring new hires to spend their first eight weeks on a floating schedule, with variability based on business needs, including when their supervisors are available.

Guess which one has talent issues?

It is, of course, the latter.

In a highly competitive environment, Fieldman recommends listening to what your employees have to say and adapting accordingly.

“Without a doubt, the best practice is not to lead the shifts, but to lead the conversation,” he says. “What challenges do you face outside of work? What opportunities do you have? How can we make your work here work for you? »

2. Open working hours

Relatedly, manufacturers can meet the needs of their employees by allowing multiple scheduling options to start and end their working day. Part of your workforce may find it helpful to start their day at 6 a.m. and end at 2 p.m. Others may have to start at 10 a.m. and work until 6 p.m.

Factory lines being what they are, it can be more difficult to create this kind of variation. After all, the production often depends on the presence of each member along the line. But making an effort here allows parents or guardians to find the schedule that balances work and home needs. It can make your business accessible to entirely new demographics that you previously missed.

3. Create more flexible factory lines

During the pandemic, a major sugar manufacturer noticed that there was very little need for individually wrapped sugars. Meanwhile, purchases of grocery sizes were skyrocketing. Because their lines were flexible, they were able to shift production to meet demand.

This is just one example of how creating a flexible factory floor can positively impact your production. Other factories have started training their workers so that they can easily move around to meet the specific needs of the day.

To open up even more freedom for employees, manufacturers can rework their factory lines so that workers can come and go as they please. Thanks to advances in scheduling software, workers are notified when other team members have completed tasks and the ball, so to speak, is in their court. Even better? Some companies are experimenting with paying employees based on output rather than the hours they log.

“You may need to have someone on that $2 million machine at all times — some production capacities may not be so flexible,” Fieldman says. “But could your packaging teams be more flexible? Could your back office be more flexible? The point is: institute rigidity only where absolutely necessary.

4. Create cooperatives

Depending on what the talent looks like around your manufacturing facility, co-ops can provide a backdoor to reliable workers. In a co-op, two or even three people combine to create a full-time role.

We’ve seen these arrangements work particularly well in college towns, where one student fills the morning shift – before heading off to class in the afternoon – while another picks up the books in the morning and heads to work. after lunch.

5. Leverage Gig Talent Supply Companies

We are certainly in the early stages of maturity in this manufacturing sub-industry, but if done right, this could well be a huge opportunity. Companies like Veryable create pools of talent that can move here and there as needed.

It’s too early to tell if this uberization of manufacturing talent will become the wave of the future. But it’s fun to think about the options it might present. Most manufacturers I know would sign on the dotted line for a service that would get them a replacement worker for the day within, say, an hour of a problem with a full-time staff member. Even if this service is paid. For one thing, it would give you a better understanding of employee illnesses and life issues that are sure to pop up.

Another twist: While most manufacturers will want to use third parties for replacement workers, larger ones might consider building their own pool as needed, similar to the “on-demand” approach mentioned above. from Target. Obviously, it’s hard to get someone cold in many manufacturing roles that require training, but specific people could be trained to be “in the pool” for back-up work.

Create the right flexible approach for your business

There is no single method to create better flexibility. The right answer for you revolves around the wants and needs of your employees, as well as the realities of the market your plant is in.

“Every manufacturer must consider their flexibility within the constraints of the business,” says Fieldman. “And if there is unused flexibility, it is time to exploit it.”

A sure way to fall behind in this competitive job market is to ignore society’s changing outlook on work. It is not enough to provide a reliable workplace and a solid salary; workers today want their work to match their life, not the other way around. Start with conversations about what your employees want, and you may soon be amazed at how flexible working acts as a magnet for new talent.

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