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Don't Miss the Boat: 5 Signs Your Workers Aren't Ready for the Manufacturing Boom

Sept. 12, 2013
Production is still a risky business, but there's evidence aplenty of a resurgence in North American manufacturing. Don't allow your floor to be left behind.

Recent months have seen a resurgence in manufacturing activity. But nothing like July. In the U.S., the Institute for Supply Management index jumped to 55.4 from 50.9 in June -- the largest one-month gain since 1996. American production reached a nine-year high as exports grew.

Canada’s manufacturing business is growing at a slower pace, but with so much activity to the south it’s likely to be only a matter of time before orders surge again.

Here are five signs your floor isn’t ready for new opportunities, and what you can do about it:

1. You don’t have a floor leader. Opportunities are only as good as the teams taking advantage of them, and teams are only as good as the leaders who guide them. Make sure you have a strong lieutenant overseeing the production line. Someone who can shift workers into new roles quickly, get training programs up and running, and meet unreasonable deadlines without incurring massive cost overruns.

2. You fail to properly document best practices. An efficient workforce is always going to be more likely to adjust to changing conditions. But gaining efficiency isn’t easy. Months or even years can pass in the quest to develop a repeatable, sustainable process that ensures productivity while leaving room for fine tuning. Fail to document successes at your peril.

3. You don’t use new technology. Too many factories are a testament to irony, using old technology to produce cutting-edge goods. Don’t fall into this trap. Slowly build an inventory of new fabrication gear and train up workers to use these advanced systems. Then, invite customers to give you tough assignments. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you and your team stand out.

4. The floor is the “messy” part of the business. Too many executives avoid getting their hands dirty. Don’t be among that group. Instead, treat production as central to the business. Visit the floor. Find out what’s working and what isn’t firsthand in order to design incentives that encourage better processes, and thereby, outcomes.

5. You don’t have a proper system for incentives and rewards. Managers often think the job of incentivizing employees begins and ends with compensation. Wrong. Volumes of research prove that employees are at their best when they come to work not just to collect a paycheck but also to fulfill a deep-seated desire to do something interesting. Be mindful of what workers wish for and acknowledge great work frequently. Have a system for it so that every meaningful contribution is acknowledged by someone at the company.

Production is still a risky business, but there’s evidence aplenty of a resurgence in North American manufacturing. Don’t allow your floor to be left behind. Identify and empower leaders. Document best practices. Embrace new technology. Get executives involved. Most important of all, think beyond compensation when it comes to incentivizing and rewarding great work. There’s too much at stake not to.

John Mills is executive vice president of Business Development at Rideau Recognition Solutions, a global leader in employee rewards and recognition programs designed to motivate and increase engagement and productivity across the workforce.

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