By Tim Paddison, managing director at Hoffmann Group UK.
In recent weeks, there have been many reports around labour shortages across a variety of sectors throughout the UK. Whether it is businesses revealing a lack of available HGV drivers due to the exit from the EU, or reports of reduced manufacturing workforces as companies face isolation requirements for workers that have tested positive on the factory floor, the UK is currently experiencing its worst labour shortage since 1997.
While isolation rules changed slightly as of August this year, the pingdemic and the growing shortage of skilled workers mean that the manufacturing sector is having to run its operations with a vastly reduced workforce.
So, how can manufacturing businesses navigate this reduced availability of workers? Instead of prioritising recruitment, what else can be done to make the most of the team you already have and what steps can employers take to boost operational productivity and efficiency?
Below are three top tips to tackle current labour shortages and ensure operations can continue to run as close to normal as possible.
Revisit your current business processes
With a reduced workforce, looking at current business processes to identify any mishaps or particularly time-intensive tasks is important.
For some manufacturing businesses, a lot of time can be spent on administration tasks that do not provide any immediate monetary value. These tasks may include, clearing and reorganising workspaces and stations, completing manual registers for employee attendance, as well as the vast amount of time spent on purchasing new tools. Whilst these tasks are important, manufacturers should find ways to prioritise business-essential activities and look for alternative ways to complete these administrative tasks.
This can be achieved by paying attention to the responsibilities of employees and potentially shifting job requirements to make the most of the skilled workers a business has. For example, employing apprentices can be a good way to bring new people into the workplace and they can often learn the ropes by having ownership over some of these administrative tasks. Through this, apprentices can be introduced, which can allow more senior staff members to complete more business critical tasks.
Similarly, hiring apprentices now is a great way to build expertise within a manufacturing organisation and with the Government recently increasing the incentive for hiring apprentices to £3,000, businesses now have even more reason explore this avenue.
Maximise the efficiency of your current workforce
Building on the efficiency of manufacturing teams is essential in periods of reduced capacity. Whilst it is important not to overload workers with extra tasks to fill absences, there are easy ways to boost the efficiencies.
Once attention has been paid to operational processes and these have been amended accordingly, it may be possible to slightly alter how employees work and in particular, use systems that help them to save time when completing tasks.
For example, implementing more efficient procedures, optimising the effectiveness of a workspace and creating small, but actionable changes can be achieved through things as simple as tool management facilities. This can include investing in minor implementations such as drawer divider systems to ensure that every tool has its place, making it immediately apparent if something is missing. This means that employees do not have to search around for the equipment they need each day and can instead spend their time focusing on getting tasks done – therefore, boosting productivity across the factory floor.
Equally, maximising efficiency can also be achieved through inventory management tools and easy to use tool vending machines. Having a digital record of who has taken the tool from the station, as well as being able to see clearly what tools have been removed and are in use, means that less time is spent looking for items and more time can be given to business-critical tasks.
Furthermore, if the vending stations are equipped with automatic resupply functionality further time can be saved in this area, with time spent managing suppliers and manually raising POs often decreased significantly.
Listen to your employees
Another way that businesses can improve employee productivity is to listen carefully to the concerns of current staff. As often discussed, keeping workers happy, listening to their concerns and taking the appropriate action can lead to high employee morale and consequently, a more productive and engaged workforce.
One option is to check in with employees and boost the productivity of the team by being increasingly flexible with schedules. If manufacturing staff can have the option to work more flexibly, and businesses can be more accommodating with scheduling, this can allow employees to feel more in control of their work/life balance and more supported by the company.
Whilst this may be difficult for some manufacturing businesses, employees who feel supported in this regard will be less likely to look for another job and more likely to work hard for the hours they do spend on the factory floor.
Similarly, if this flexible scheduling is not possible, listening to employees’ thoughts and concerns about their routine tasks is time well spent. Setting up weekly catch-ups may lead to more collaborative conversations around how these issues can be resolved, working to boost productivity and overall efficiency of the business’ processes.
Make use of Government initiatives
Finally, in the Government’s April budget this year, in addition to doubling the incentive for hiring apprentices, a super deduction was also revealed – both providing increased opportunity for manufacturing businesses to mitigate the effects of the ongoing labour shortages crisis that the industry is currently experiencing, as money can be invested where it is most needed to help operations with the added bonus of a tax incentive.
Under the super deduction, for every pound that a company invests, their taxes will be cut by up to 25p. Manufacturing companies can now claim 130% capital allowances on qualifying plant and machinery investments and this could include anything from drills and cranes to new computer equipment or a tool management system.
Using this tax deduction now is an increasingly attractive option to manufacturers as money can be invested to purchase solutions that help employees to get their jobs done, without burning a big hole in the company’s pocket. The super deduction allows manufacturers to invest in solutions from inventory tools and workstations to any tools that may be needed to help existing staff members work as productively and effectively as possible. And, with the added bonus of a tax incentive, these purchases can not only support employees getting the job done, but these investments won't break the bank.
Manufacturing companies today undoubtedly face pressures, but now it’s up to leaders to listen to employees, find effective ways to reorganise staff tasks and invest in systems that make their employees’ working lives easier.
Acting now, supporting employees and making the most of their time will ensure that productivity doesn’t slip, customers' expectations are met and manufacturing businesses continue to thrive in the coming weeks, months and years.
Hoffmann Group UK