Over the past few decades, advanced manufacturing has seen digitization greatly evolve the industry at large. Artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, virtual reality and autonomous operations have created new capabilities that improve productivity and challenge traditional working models. The COVID-19 pandemic further accelerated these operational changes, proving that the industry can often accommodate flexible work models successfully. As organizations return to standard operations, hybrid work and flexible options in the industry are still achievable. Giving employees greater control over when, where, or how continuously work is done can create better talent acquisition outcomes and drive stronger business results. In fact, a study from Manufacturer’s Alliance found that developing flexible work models ranked as a top priority for manufacturing industry executives. 

Flexible work design is not one-size fits all – manufacturing organizations can span a wide range of geographic locations, departments, project needs and individual preferences. With 59% of executives reporting a cultural resistance to change at their organization, TA leaders need to act strategically to gain business buy-in for workforce adaptability and successfully implement new work models that meet their organization’s unique needs. 

The Talent Imperative for Flexible Work 

Offering flexibility to both salaried and hourly employees (through remote work, flexible hours, compressed workweeks, split shifts and more) may be a competitive advantage amid both a long-standing skills gap and the current labor shortage. Organizations that choose to fully adopt or keep flexible work options post-pandemic stand to acquire talent looking to maintain the flexibility they gained over the past year. It may also allow organizations to recruit from a wider talent pool, attracting individuals located in different geographic locations, or those unable to work traditional hours. One study from MyWorkChoice found that 78% of hourly employees said flexibility was an important consideration when choosing an employer. 

Meanwhile, flexible work can also aid in retention by ensuring current employees feel their concerns and needs are met. The economic and social uncertainty of the past year has led to rising burnout that often results in resignations; offering more flexible work options can address this and boost trust in the organization.  Manufacturers Alliance found that 32% of organizations surveyed said employee preference was the primary driver of their flexible work design. 

Potential Benefits of Flexible Work Options 

Traditionally, manufacturing companies required hourly and even salaried employees such as senior engineers and project managers to convene on-site for testing, facility tours, training and other frontline supervisory duties. By enabling remote collaboration through technology, organizations can greatly reduce or even eliminate the need for business travel. This not only helps minimize the associated costs but also allows projects to move forward much faster by allowing key stakeholders (who may be located across the country or even internationally) to oversee work and provide approvals virtually.  

These same technologies can also help highly distributed workforces gain more equal access to mentorship and training. Companies with operations across the world and hundreds of employees may struggle to deploy experienced staff efficiently in order to transfer business-critical skills and knowledge across the organization through in-person training.  Virtual collaboration tools make access to these mentors easier on both sides.  

For hourly manufacturing workers, flexibility in shifts can also drive more efficient operations. Giving employees more control over their schedules has been shown to improve employee satisfaction, retention rates and productivity. Furthermore, dynamic scheduling options such as split shifts, part-time positions and shift swapping can ensure plants are staffed adequately while reducing employee absenteeism and overtime costs. 

Considerations for Effective Implementation 

Talent leaders must consult with hiring managers, department leaders and other stakeholders at every level of their organization to develop a nuanced, well-detailed policy. Decide which employees are eligible for flexibility (and what kind) based on business needs and employee preference, and clearly specify the terms and any limitations. 

Some other considerations for implementation include: 

  • Updating recruitment materials and messaging. Update your organization’s recruitment materials and messaging to highlight increased work flexibility for the biggest impact on talent attraction, but be sure candidates know early in the process which options their role is eligible for.

  • Preparing to manage multiple employee groups. Put systems in place to know which employees must be on-site, which are hybrid, and which are fully remote: It is generally a good idea to understand where your employees are and when for compliance reasons.

  • Investing in the right technology and tools. The right technology for collaboration, data collection and analytics must be in place to prevent disruptions to productivity and business continuity. Complex scheduling technology and other tools can help implement flexible work policies more efficiently while ensuring work sites are adequately staffed at all times. 

  • Ensuring remote work tools and resources are easily accessible. A 2020 Leesman study of 50,000 manufacturing sector employees found that less than half have remote work experience. Leaders need to make sure all employees (even those on-site) are well trained in the tools and technologies needed to collaborate and work virtually. Usability should be a top consideration when implementing new technology. 

  • Putting in place protections for cybersecurity. Hybrid work models can increase the threats to cybersecurity for advanced manufacturing companies as employees access critical infrastructure from locations that may not be secure. Work with IT to make sure employees are fully trained to reduce risk.

Despite traditional notions, more flexible working models are not only a reality for many advanced manufacturing organizations but can be a strategic advantage in the battle for talent.  If talent leaders can successfully gain broader business buy-in and take action to implement new working models effectively today, it may drive business outcomes in the years to come.

Partnering with an experienced recruitment process outsourcing provider like Cielo can help you attract the manufacturing talent you need with leading-edge TA strategies.