To say that the world of work has undergone a transformation would be an understatement. The trends arising from when we were grappling with the pandemic to now when we seem to have settled into a new normal, have made us rethink our priorities, and rightly so. If we were to speak specifically about work and employment, while 2020 was characterized by layoffs, 2021 has been termed as the year of ‘The Great Resignation.’    

The numbers definitely make one pause and think. In November 2021, a record 4.53 million Americans quit their jobs. Between April and September 2021, the US workforce had shrunk by over 24 million. A detailed study on the reasons for this exodus revealed that toxic culture, job insecurity, lack of recognition, and poor response to COVID-19 were among the top reasons. The assumption is that people adjusted with not-so-great employment conditions in the pre-pandemic era. But the pandemic and, consequently, the very real threat of death put an end to the ‘compromise.’ Individuals have decided to make sure that all aspects of their life need to be meaningful. 

What does this mean for manufacturers and employers?

Even before the pandemic, attracting and retaining workers was a challenge. Today’s scenario at most manufacturing companies is this: They are short-staffed with more temporary workers than trained employees running shifts. Demand and cost per unit are at all-time highs while factory output, quality, and productivity are low. Their managers are trying everything possible to attract, train and retain workers, but the entry/exit door is revolving at a dizzying pace. So, what does one do? 

As Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The great resignation can become your great realization!

There are people who are showing up; why not try to make the best of their time and capabilities without burning them out. Get them to do more with less without necessarily working double shifts. How? By giving them a voice, the opportunity to raise a hand when they need help, and most importantly, the tools to work smarter. According to a recent survey by Emergence, 78% of deskless workers say that technology is an important consideration when choosing a job, and 70% of deskless workers were of the opinion that technology would help them do their jobs better. So, do we need to upgrade the machinery, you ask? Better still, let’s make them accountable!

1. Make your machines accountable:

The people who are showing up at work have a finite number of hours and, given the present scenario, may take longer to deliver the same output as a trained full-time employee. Rather than pushing them to complete rigorous training at breakneck speed or work longer shifts, the better alternative would be to make your machines work harder. Connect the machines onto industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors and plug the data into a comprehensive monitoring system that managers can use to spot, sort, and, in many cases, even prevent breakdowns. Sounds complicated? Trust me, it isn’t. It’s something that Andonix has been doing effectively for clients through the Smart Work Station (SWS). But just smarter machines are not enough.

2. Build and normalize a culture of seeking help:

Smarter machines are still run by people, possibly those who may have not undergone the requisite training and might need more support than anticipated. What if there was a way to document key learnings and make this knowledge available to everyone on the factory floor? SWS, for instance, has the Digital Andon App that connects frontline workers with supervisors through a WhatsApp-like digital hotline. Suppose any kind of process or machine anomaly occurs. In that case, an automated alert is triggered and directed within the organization, enabling the right teams to quickly identify, react and contain problems before they snowball into impacting the bottom line. If seeking support is normalized over time, it builds a culture of accountability. 

3. Leverage data to join the dots:

After making machines accountable and normalizing the culture of seeking help, a data-driven decision-making culture needs to be adopted in the manufacturing industry. No, I am not talking about the kind of data that drives multi-million-dollar organizations worldwide. Ensuring operational effectiveness, maintaining machine (and consequently, people’s) productivity levels, and documenting learnings must become the norm at work. Smart Work Station uses data from sensors connected to machines and combines them with analytics from the Digital Andon to provide real-time machine performance and process data to measure overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and operating efficiencies. This way, frontline workers are not just connected, but they also have a data-driven voice, allowing for outstanding performers to be recognized. And recognition is a powerful motivator that can have a domino effect on other employees as well!

When those who are showing up at work feel motivated and connected, they have access to tools that make their jobs simpler and are able to hold machines accountable, productivity and efficiency are sure to witness an upward trajectory. And that, in my opinion, is a great start to making manufacturing sexy again, don’t you think?