5 Ways to Increase Workforce Agility to Meet Your Production Targets

5 Ways to Increase Workforce Agility to Meet Your Production Targets

By its nature, manufacturing workforce management is multi-faceted and highly dynamic. Especially now, when the new world of work is a massive jigsaw puzzle that changes daily but must be finished at record speed — requiring those in charge to figure out which pieces go where for exactly the right fit, as quickly as possible.

But as we’ve all witnessed, the last few years have ushered in tremendous changes that have made finding coverage more challenging than ever. Because of Covid-19, circumstances such as last-minute absences and a reduction of work hours due to personal illness and family care obligations are far more common — and still have wide-reaching effects that are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Absences are compounding with an ongoing labor shortage, due to an aging population and shrinking talent pools. The numbers are mind-boggling:

As many as 2.1 million manufacturing jobs are projected to be unfilled through 2030 — and could ultimately cost the U.S. economy up to a staggering $1 trillion by 2030.
Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute

A different worker landscape has also emerged. Today’s prospective workers are expecting more from their future employers in terms of engagement, fairness, and flexibility — a stark contrast to generations past, whose general mindset was “show up for work every day, no matter what.” When and how employees define work has changed, too. The spectrum of potential labor sources now includes part-time, temp, retired, and gig workers — all of whom have different needs and expectations.

Not surprisingly, all of these changes come with new unique challenges. Operations managers must respond quickly and strategically, so production lines stay running, order commitments are met, and workers are still engaged and willing to work. Even with the best labor planning software and forecasting strategies in place, last-minute changes can’t be entirely avoided. Still, you can manage the massive downstream impact that unpredictable change has on labor scheduling. Two specific approaches are beneficial: using a strategic lens to plan for problems in advance, and a tactical one to tackle challenges as they arise.

While last-minute changes can’t be entirely avoided, you can manage the massive downstream impact that unpredictable change has on labor scheduling. Two specific approaches are especially helpful: using a strategic lens to plan for problems in advance, and a tactical one to tackle challenges as they arise.

From a strategic standpoint, being agile means you need to foresee your labor constraints and mitigate shortages in advance. Technology can help with labor planning in advance, allowing you to anticipate staffing gaps early and build adequate workforce capacity in the long run. From a tactical perspective, being agile means responding to unexpected gaps quickly and keeping operations running smoothly — no matter the circumstances.

Technology can help you mobilize limited resources quickly in the best way possible in response to the real-time challenges that come up every day.

Here, we share five ways you can tap the full potential of intelligent employee scheduling to improve workforce agility, both in the short and long term, and ensure production targets are met.

1. Improve Collaboration Between Production Planners and Employee Schedulers

Consistently hitting production commitments is incredibly challenging. It becomes even more complex if your organization has multiple facilities, production lines, and SKUs. On any given day, numerous unexpected factors will impact production output.

This ongoing, highly complex balancing act requires cross-team collaboration and more agility than manual tools, such as Excel, can offer. While Excel-driven processes have traditionally been the norm in many industries, they are error-prone, inefficient, and difficult (if not impossible) to use for cross-team synchronization as well as large-scale production, leading to inaccurate staffing plans, scheduling latency, and many other avoidable issues. Fortunately, configurable employee scheduling software has emerged in recent years to streamline the complex process of matching production needs to staffing requirements with remarkable functionality and speed.

These demand-based scheduling capabilities can facilitate real-time collaboration and dialogue between production planners and employee schedulers, providing a centralized dashboard for visualizing which lines are running on any given day and pinpointing where coverage gaps occur. Armed with this collaborative, real-time view, managers can quickly assess, reassign, and shuffle workers to rebalance lines as production and labor changes occur.

2. Plan for the Unexpected with Robust Contingency Planning

There’s perhaps no bigger cause for headache among operations managers than discovering they’re understaffed and at risk of not meeting production commitments. While this scenario was increasingly common for manufacturers and other industries during the pandemic, it still continues due to fluctuating demand, ongoing supply chain issues, and a persisting labor shortage.

Part of the problem is that schedulers often don’t have a real-time view into daily production plans to identify areas, production lines, or shifts at risk of being understaffed. The challenge is made even more difficult if they don’t have backup labor pools or a way to determine temp staffing and flex pool needs in advance.

Contingency planning for dynamic worksites can involve creating backup labor pools and determining communication policies for your temp staffing and flex pools in advance. Cross-training is another proactive measure that organizations should leverage to expand the capacity of their existing workforce and bolster backup labor pools.

Visibility into leave requests, absence trends, daily production plans, and shifts that are historically vulnerable to understaffing helps managers anticipate labor needs early so they have adequate time to ensure enough workers are on standby or ready to volunteer should the need arise.

Automated employee scheduling technology provides a powerful crystal ball into the real-time data necessary for effective contingency planning. Visibility into shifts at risk of understaffing, the status of volunteer sign-up lists, or week-of labor and production needs provides actionable insights for better decision making when operating plans change. Workforce managers can also build an adequate backup pool via flexible scheduling mechanisms such as:

  • Allowing workers to volunteer for shifts in advance
  • Building on-call shifts into shift patterns
  • Assigning extra floaters to areas that are vulnerable to last-minute coverage gaps

By proactively tracking and accommodating workers’ shift preferences and availability and creating schedules that automatically take worker needs into account, companies can actively reduce attrition, shift turndowns, and absences. Not only does this boost shift coverage, but it also boosts employee satisfaction: a win-win for everyone.

Backed by these robust resources, employee schedulers will be far better equipped to address the inevitable changes that will happen — before they become problematic.

3. Tap the Full Potential of Workforce Data to Find Coverage Quickly

To remain competitive in today’s business climate, manufacturers need ways to direct labor resources where and when they’re needed. Real-time workforce data visibility, which allows operations managers to identify current staffing shortages, fill-in or part-time labor, open shifts, production ramps, overtime usage, or compliance issues, is crucial to making that happen.

With automated employee scheduling software, employee schedulers can avoid the stressful, hectic scramble to manually find available and qualified workers at the last minute. Employee scheduling software empowers schedulers with the ability to know the work preferences of their entire labor force, enabling them to create the perfect worker-friendly schedule. This is achieved thanks to powerful, data-enabled visibility into staffing gaps and available workers, as well as their individual schedule preferences. In this way, managers can identify day-of coverage gaps across all areas of operations within a single view and access on-demand lists of available, qualified/eligible, and willing workers prioritized according to their facility’s specific rules.

Armed with such data, managers can also proactively identify and develop a backup list or flex pool that’s ready to work, all while keeping employees engaged and happy. No more frenetic, last-minute searches to find the right person when the clock is ticking.

Other proactive strategies enabled by configurable employee scheduling software include auto-checking employee qualifications, availability, and compliance; automation of scheduling workflows; and auto-promoting open shifts via volunteer signups, bids, or shift pickup capability. These capabilities allow workforce managers to implement split shifts, filled by flex pools with varying availability; extend shifts; and reassign extra/underutilized workers to where they are needed the most. Such comprehensive functionality helps ensure shifts are covered quickly and easily — and that production goals are met.

In this way, workforce managers can use an optimization engine to truly “run lean” and identify all possible coverage possibilities before resorting to extra OT and other costly labor resources.

4. Champion Worker-Friendly Scheduling

As the new world of work develops and the labor landscape becomes more complex, manufacturers must accommodate the needs of the labor pool as it exists today and as it evolves tomorrow. Workers have more power to control their work lives than ever before, helping spur a massive socio-economic shift that’s become known as The Great Resignation. Today’s employees want roles that provide work-life balance, champion transparency, and offer job satisfaction. They’re demanding fairness in the way their jobs and shifts are scheduled — and they don’t want to feel like they’re constantly being pressured or singled out to do more.

Clearly, employers who have a deep understanding of this new employee-centric outlook — and, more importantly, a demonstrated commitment to supporting it — are the ones who will remain competitive. In any industry, constant and unpredictable schedule changes are stressful and lead to burnout and turnover — even more so in manufacturing, where hourly work is the norm.

Worker-friendly scheduling puts employees’ needs front and center by allowing them more control over their schedules. While the practice is good in theory, it must have the appropriate resources in order to be implemented; otherwise, the process can place a significant burden on managers, who spend countless hours looking for qualified, available employees only to be turned down.

Employee scheduling software solves this challenge by tracking all workers’ shift preferences and specific schedule needs when it matters most — during shift assignments. At the same time, these intelligent technologies ensure equitable overtime distribution to avoid employee burnout and fairness complaints. Sophisticated employee scheduling software also offers workers self-serve tools to pick up, trade, and decline shifts as allowed by company policies. On top of day-of management tools, features like worker shuffle, shift splitting, and reassigning extras are all adaptive features that can help you flex your current workforce for better operational agility.

5. Optimize and Streamline Worker Communication

Operational success depends on the smooth, effective exchange of information between managers and workers. Keeping workers informed in real-time about shift changes, schedule updates, and other important info about their jobs promotes cooperation and empowers employees to take necessary actions quickly. In a nutshell: Operational success depends heavily on giving workers the information they need — how and when they need it — so they can do their jobs well.

Instead of relying on outdated, patchwork communications systems such as phone trees and emails, there’s a better way: technology-based systems that prioritize real-time communication between shift leads and workers, in a way that works best for employees. Such solutions expand communication channels and accommodate employees’ preferred modes of communication, notifying them about schedule changes via the web, mobile apps, emails, or text alerts.

In addition to facilitating seamless communication with employees in their preferred mode, these scheduling technologies also offer employees 24/7 access to their schedule — further empowering them in their job. These tools provide employees with access to sign up for available shifts via laptops or mobile devices quickly and easily. The benefits are equally appealing for employee schedulers, too. No more tracking people down via Excel spreadsheets or confusing phone-tree mix-ups, waiting for a response that may never come, while scrambling to cover shifts at the last minute.

Finally, because we live in an age of information overload, premier employee scheduling technologies should allow for communications tailoring. This way, only impacted employees get notifications so they don’t get into the habit of ignoring messages or thinking that most communications don’t pertain to them.

An All-Around Win

The current labor landscape marks a time of tremendous change for many industries, especially those like manufacturing, which will continue to face the acute challenges of an ongoing labor shortage and supply chain disruptions for the foreseeable future. Add in the changing work culture and worker demands, and the challenges mount. But more and more organizations, especially those with complex operations and large workforces, are letting automated technologies handle the heavy lifting to optimize their employee schedules as production needs change.

Intelligent employee scheduling software offers an all-around win: for employee schedulers, who can vastly reduce time spent on schedule management and focus instead on more revenue-earning tasks; for operations managers, who can avoid the stress and worry of missing production goals; and for employees, who have more control and say in their schedules.

With today’s tight labor market, companies must optimize how they use their limited labor resources, and that means exploring all available possibilities. Intelligent scheduling technology can help empower customers with highly configurable workflows, a comprehensive rule set library, and superior OT equalization mechanisms. Robust features like these help workforce managers adapt to complexity by flexing their workforce and increasing operational agility, which means a well-running, optimally performing business.

The result? The task of workforce scheduling transforms from a time- and cost-heavy burden into an opportunity that enables your company to be the employer of choice — even in challenging times.

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