Having experienced the impacts of this crisis, manufacturers must work now to ensure their workforce is well-equipped for future disruptions.

In the event of a sudden loss of an employee, often their day-to-day job function will be unfamiliar to other employees.
In the event of a sudden loss of an employee, often their day-to-day job function will be unfamiliar to other employees.

by John McCurdy, partner, The Bonadio Group

For many, couches and dining room tables became offices this spring when it was deemed unsafe to gather due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are many industries, manufacturing included, for which working from home is impossible or generally impractical. As such, to keep operations moving, manufacturers remained open but often with modified production schedules to maintain the recommended physical distance between workers or as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak among their staff.

In reacting to this crisis over the past few months, manufacturing business have been forced to evaluate how their current staffing situation with many wondering how to prepare their workforces for similar challenges in the future. Here are three steps business leaders can take now to ensure that they are properly staffed the next time unexpected circumstances arise:

  1. Cross training employees so that skill sets are not lost in the event of a reduction.
    It may sound ideal to employ workers who live and breathe one specialty skill; and there is certainly value in hiring and retaining employees who are experts in their fields. However, in the event that some of the workforce must be let go, or as with COVID-19, plants must limit the number of workers on the floor, it is important that more than one employee can do more than one job correctly and efficiently with a seamless transition.Manufacturing facilities should implement shadowing and mentorship programs to ensure new and current employees are learning a myriad of skills throughout the plant. While the process of cross training may result in slower productivity at first, as workers advance their skills, they gain a better understanding of the manufacturing process as a whole and can serve as important assets in multiple functions during any disruption of the workforce.
  2. Identifying and filling gaps in workforce knowledge concentration.
    Manufacturing processes can suffer when one person is absent – whether it’s due to an emergency such as COVID-19, they’ve left the organization permanently, or are simply taking scheduled time off. Establishing backups for critical positions is imperative to ensuring a seamless continuation of productivity no matter the circumstances.The first step in this process is identifying the gaps. Managers should ask themselves: Which functions within the manufacturing process could not take place if even one employee was not at work? Once that question has been answered, managers must then determine which employees are best suited to be trained for these critical roles based on existing skills or potential to learn and quickly ensure that the appropriate knowledge is shared.
  3. Implementing training programs and documentation of manufacturing process.
    In the event of a sudden loss of an employee, often their day-to-day job function will be unfamiliar to other employees who are focused on doing their own jobs. In order for an organization to survive and efficiently adapt to an unexpected loss of critical skills, business leaders must act proactively and prepare for situations before they occur, ensuring employees are well-equipped to take on different roles in any event.Additionally, managers should sit down with employees to document current manufacturing processes and meet again periodically to record any changes. This way, in combination with the training to take on a new role, workers will also have a guide to reference as they get started.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light many inefficiencies in the way manufacturers currently staff their operations. The three solutions listed above offer business leaders an immediate opportunity to ensure they are well-equipped to withstand crises from a staffing perspective. Not only does the increased workforce flexibility provide manufacturers peace of mind but gives employees a chance to increase their skillsets and grow within the organization.

john mccurdy bonadio
John McCurdy

As practice lead for The Bonadio Group’s manufacturing and distribution industry vertical, John provides attest and consultative services to privately held companies. He has worked at Bonadio for 16 years and prior to joining the firm was the controller of two private companies in the metal finishing industry.