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Does Manufacturing Need a Culture Makeover?

Oct. 29, 2019
Manufacturing executives are least likely than other industries executives to say that their culture is healthy.

While it’s common knowledge that manufacturing has a culture problem, what might not be known is how deep a problem this is.

In a study by Grant Thornton, "Return on Culture: Proving the Connection Between Work and Profit," manufacturing executives are least likely than other industry executives to say that their culture is healthy or facilitates innovation.

It’s not just the executive suite that’s unhappy, manufacturing workers are the least engaged in their work -- 8 percentage points behind all other industry sectors, according to a recent Gallup survey.

“The industry needs to change the perception of manufacturing,” says Jeff French, National Managing Partner, Consumer and Industrial Products, Grant Thornton. “Companies need to create an environment that looks and feels like what they are talking about. When you look at the surveys the industry has had a bad rap for so long, which includes shutting down plants. It’s a real issue and parents shy away from suggesting it as a career.“ 

However, French says the industry has made some progress “I do feel that in the last five years, we have started to change that image by bringing kids into the factory and working with trade schools and reaching out to parents. Companies are even taking trailers with mini-factories out to high schools. But we need to do a lot more."   

He’s afraid that “it might take a generation to turn around this perception."

When asked if he thought increasing pay could attract more workers he said that manufacturing companies are struggling with capital investment as well as business margins. “There is not enough there to increase wages.”

However, he does seem some movement in wages as some companies are raising wages 25-30% for certain skilled jobs.

But pay alone won't solve the problem. He pointed out that in some cases there is the issue of the location of manufacturing plants. Many are in areas that are losing populations so even if pay was increased it’s still very hard to find the necessary talent to fill the jobs.

And there this is the issue of technology. He points out that many companies are not making enough money to invest in technology that would attract these younger works.  

But there are steps that companies can be taking today to improve this situation. He  suggests re-evaluating recruitment strategies:

Highlight the benefits of a manufacturing career.
In recruitment materials, incorporate stats that indicate the stability and growth potential a manufacturing career offers. For example, manufacturing has the highest average wages of private sector industries ($81,289) and the highest tenure for workers (9.7 years).

Re-evaluate your approach to job postings.
Carefully craft job descriptions. Include specific language that communicates an evolving career with room for growth. Other key benefits like work-life balance and flexible work arrangements can also help to attract talent.

Provide opportunities for learning.
Today’s emerging workforce is laser-focused on developing skills in their jobs. Invest in internships, apprenticeships and certification programs to help recruit and develop early-career employees. Consider partnership with schools to educate students about manufacturing careers, emphasizing the opportunity to produce products and be innovative through the use of advanced technologies. Additionally, seek out untapped, nontraditional or underutilized labor pools like veterans, individuals with disabilities or dislocated workers. Remember to focus on both technical and soft skills and develop competency-based training programs to enable the creation of a roadmap for cultivating the next generation of manufacturing workers.

On the topic of retention he offers this advice:

  • Implement mentorship and rotational programs.
    Consider offering mentorship programs that can be conducted one-on-one, with group classes, or online. Some companies are developing cross-functional mentorship programs to provide workers with opportunities to gain experience in key business areas like sales, commercial operations, product management or application engineering.
  • Skip the traditional annual review.
    Instead, promote a culture of engagement by providing regular feedback, both formal and informal. Consider video calls for remote employees or to connect with divisions in other locations. As the number of direct reports per supervisor increases, communicating regularly through multiple means is critical to fostering employee engagement.
  • Facilitate idea sharing among all levels of workers.
    Identify mechanisms for sharing ideas to improve the business. Online forums or other tech-based platforms provide a way to communicate ideas, crowdsource suggestions and prioritize ideas to revisit later. Such mechanisms are especially important for the industry that is challenged by cultivating a healthy culture in a highly decentralized environment. 

All of these strategies have one thing in common; understanding the specific needs of the future workforce. “Younger people are looking to use a  wide variety of skills and want to have more say in their schedule and companies are going to have to adapt to those things. Look at what motivates these workers, things are changing."

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