The widening skills shortage in the US manufacturing industry is no longer news. Not only are manufacturers struggling to fill in positions — they keep losing the staff that they already have. However, this dire scenario can be partially mitigated if factories take specific steps to engage and motivate their current employees.
Here are a few motivational strategies that production managers and manufacturing executives can apply to keep plant floor workers fired up and ready to put in their best.
1. What do (your) factory workers really want?
Let’s drill down and get some pointers by checking reviews from past workers in manufacturing companies. These workers mention specific factors that positively influenced their experiences in each company:
- Workers at Revlon are staying for an average of 4.5 years largely due to pros like great vacation pay, benefits, and workers’ safety. The workers from the production and manufacturing part of Revlon mentioned how they appreciate a positive work atmosphere, interesting tasks, opportunities to work in all company areas, and great culture.
- Workers at Stryker Electric mention perks like paid holidays, chances for advancement, and the presence of great management as major motivators while they were working with the company. Even though positive reviews are helpful in determining the right perks for the factory workers, negative ones are a great resource too. One review for this company mentioned uneven working conditions - the pay is based on prior experience and knowledge so it might be hard for someone who is just getting started.
A tip for manufacturers
As expected, workers mention several different factors that motivate them. It’s unlikely that one company can provide everything for everyone. Therefore, proactively solicit feedback from your factory workers about their working conditions and the improvements that they’d like to see. Doing this will show that you care and, more importantly, help you to focus your efforts in the places that will have the most effect on employee motivation and satisfaction.
2. Break old stereotypes
As older generations of workers gradually retire and ease out of manufacturing and other businesses, the focus is shifting to how to attract and keep a younger generation of workers. However, these new crops of workers prefer to work in certain kinds of company culture. Getting them in is the first challenge — motivating them to stay is an even bigger one.
It will require manufacturing companies to take innovative steps to remove old stereotypes and negative perceptions about manufacturing work. Some of these perceptions include the belief that this kind of work is monotonous, boring, physically demanding, and has negative health consequences.
You can bet that younger staff aren’t looking to work in isolated shifts for the entire day, go home, and repeat it all the next day. They want to be part of a vibrant work community. So, what can you do?
A tip for manufacturers
Can you gradually but consistently work to dispel the image of factory workers slaving over machines all day? Actively incorporate activities that give your establishment more of a community atmosphere and portray it as a unique and interesting place to work.
For a start, maybe ask yourself the following questions with a view to improving areas of shortfalls:
- Can you invest in modern tools/equipment that make heavy physical work less demanding and more engaging?
- How involved is your business in the immediate community?
- Does your plant have a CSR policy or a reputation for giving back to the community?
- Does your company have an engaging social media presence?
These might look like little things but they matter to workers today and these actions can help to position your company as a preferred place to work in the manufacturing sector.
3. Provide relevant training
83% of manufacturers are focused on attracting and retaining a quality workforce — and a big part of achieving this are opportunities for learning and development.
Identify your workers’ weak points — if you have a fresh addition to your factory floor, it’s critical that you identify which areas they need training in. This will help them become a productive team member quickly. On the other hand, some of your loyal workers, who have been a part of the team for a while, probably need to refresh their memory — this is a chance to bring them up to speed.
Transfer irreplaceable knowledge to new workers — workers who have been with the company for a long time have a lot of valuable information and know-how, from business processes to important procedures and physical assets. That knowledge is unique, and it’s quite useful when transferred to rookies — they can use that information to be more efficient in their job, and thus avoid delays in production.
Help workers become experts in their job — offer your workforce a few different ways to learn about their job and the industry. You could reimburse them for a training course they want to attend, offer advanced equipment training, get them to trade shows (or share valuable insights if you attended a trade show), and offer them an opportunity to network with other workers, and exchange good practices.
A tip for manufacturers
Try to invest in a training program that will ensure your manufacturing workforce has up-to-date knowledge they can utilize in their daily tasks. A training program can take on many forms, as you can see in the image below:
Allow workers a bit of flexibility — let them choose when and where they are most motivated to learn. The technology we use is changing rapidly so make sure your workers are properly trained to use it. After all, that affects the company’s results and makes sure that the workers are successfully completing their daily assignments. A side bonus you get is retaining your factory workers since they'll stick with employers who invest in their growth.
4. Prioritize health & safety
Depending on the type of products being manufactured, factory workers face higher risks of toxic exposure. In addition, they are often at risk of sustaining equipment-related injuries.
It is hard to be productive and motivated if you’re constantly worried about being injured because of the incompetency/complacency of your colleagues or due to long-standing risks associated with faulty equipment and infrastructure that just never get addressed.
Fortunately, there’s plenty that can be done to keep workers safe in manufacturing plants.
A tip for manufacturers
When production workers perform tasks with potential safety issues, equip them to remain safe by:
- Providing the necessary equipment such as PPE
- Providing the necessary safety training
- Organizing regular toolbox talks
- Outlining standardized operating procedures and writing checklists workers can follow while executing specific tasks
- Conducting audits (preferably impromptu) to ensure that everyone is complying with the agreed safety guidelines
- Providing safeguards against health hazards at work
- Establishing a proactive equipment maintenance program to minimize injuries and accidents due to faulty assets
5. Pay fair compensation
We can’t run away from monetary compensations and living wage discussions. Fair pay is a prerequisite for employee retention and engagement. If you do not offer a competitive salary, most of the efforts we talked about so far will go to waste.
Take a look at the following information showing ballpark figures for factory work in 2022:
- According to Indeed, factory workers in the USA can expect an average hourly pay starting at $16.09 per hour with the highest pay being $20.06. This is besides other benefits like a 401(k).
- Monster.com puts the range between $12.16 and $19.75.
Of course, what will be a fair and competitive offer will depend on the living costs of your workers and how many alternative work options they have. And judging by the labor shortage reports — they have a lot of options. Lastly, don’t forget about other incentives like bonuses, awards, time off, and vacations since they also count toward keeping workers motivated.
A tip for manufacturers
Note that the focus is not on paying the highest rates in the industry, but on offering reasonably competitive rates that keep workers motivated and willing to go the extra mile to help the company achieve its production goals.
Aside from that, you’ll have to invest additional effort in positions that require skilled workers.
For example, we recently ran a survey among maintenance managers. A common complaint was how finding skilled workers is increasingly difficult — so you should work extra hard on keeping existing talent. The 80/20 rule suggests that 80% of the work is done by 20% of workers. While the reality might not be that extreme, work on identifying high performers and find ways to keep that happy — be it through better contracts, job promotions, or any of the other compensation methods we talked about.
The fact is, despite the multimillion-dollar assets, machines, and tools found in factories today, employees will always come first because a factory is only as good as the people operating it. Considering the uncertainties in the post-pandemic job market, employers will likely continue to struggle with attracting, keeping, and motivating workers for some time.
Overcoming this challenge will require employers to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses in their human resources management and quickly find ways to correct existing inefficiencies.
Bryan Christiansen, Founder & CEO of Limble CMMS
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.