The year 2017 is coming to a close and manufacturing executives are looking toward the possibilities of the year
to come. We recently spoke with senior vice president of
operations of The Raymond Corporation, Rick Harrington, on
manufacturing workforce development and how companies
can rise to the challenge.
IMPO: What are the biggest challenges manufacturing
companies face today regarding their workforce?
Rick Harrington:There are two big challenges facing
today’s manufacturing companies: lack of new
employees’ basic manufacturing skills and the desire for
flexible work environments.
More and more, new employees who are starting
manufacturing jobs are lacking basic mechanical skills.
These skills range from the ability to use a torque wrench
to how to use measuring devices. In the past, these types
of skills were much more prevalent in the manufacturing
workforce. Today, however, developing these skills is just not
part of everyday life anymore.
With today’s young workforce, we’ve seen a change in
lifestyles and backgrounds. Fewer people seem to be growing
up on farms and working on equipment as a means of living,
as well as passing the time. This workforce also tends to
be more engaged with different interests, such as organized
sports and gaming. In addition, a lot of the technology
ingrained in today’s machines prevents people from taking
apart cars, for example, and putting them back together. The
easy-to-work-on cars of the past are no longer an option
for the hobbyist who has access only to new, technology-forward cars. The same goes for the technologically advanced
manufacturing machinery, too.
In addition, the desire for flexible work environments,
especially as it pertains to schedules, is becoming a challenge
for manufacturing companies. There seems to be quite a
movement away from historically rigid, structured workdays
to much more flexible type of work environments with
atypical shifts. For the manufacturing industry, this is a
180-degree shift from what has been the standard. Typically,
manufacturing companies want the same thing for their
employees day after day — for them to show up same time,
be on the line for a set time period and go home at the same
time each day. The challenge for manufacturing companies
will be to determine how to run an assembly line while
accommodating flexible schedules.
IMPO: What are your predictions for advancements in
factory automation for 2018 or the following couple years?
Harrington: Through 2018 and beyond, the industry will
continue to see an increase in automation in factories. Truly
redundant and repetitive tasks — for example, transporting
and transitioning materials throughout a warehouse — will
be automated through means such as AGVs, or automated
guided vehicles. Robotic machinery will continue to become
prevalent in factory settings as well, which will help
workplace efficiency and an increased bottom line.
For example, at Raymond’s Greene, NY facility, a robotic
welder has been installed in the welding station. The
company chose to implement this machinery on account of
often needing miles and miles of welding to be done each
day. It’s important to note that Raymond didn’t make this
change to purposely replace a person with a robot, but to
instead relieve needing to have an employee do extremely
physically demanding and difficult tasks, such as welding
thousands of feet during a shift.
By automating redundant and sometimes tremendously
demanding tasks, employees will be able to focus their time
and skillsets on value-added positions. More and more new-to-the-workforce employees are wanting to take on roles that
add value, rather than be tasked with redundant movements
throughout a workday.
IMPO: How can companies combat the challenge of
developing a workforce?
Harrington: In a nutshell, companies can combat the
challenge of developing a workforce by eliminating hard
work, serving as responsible teachers and trainers and
collaborating with educational institutions to introduce
manufacturing early on and set expectations.
One thing companies can do is to work toward eliminating
difficult work. The Japanese call this YK Work.
For example, this could be needing to access an area to
secure a hard-to-install bolt, or a process that includes moving
heavy objects repeatedly. Companies will want to look at their
workforce opportunities, on account that everyone should have
an equal opportunity to be successful in their position — no
matter their size or strength. Implementing processes that allow
anyone to be successful and comfortable in their role will help
ensure a dedicated and happy workforce.
Another area in which companies can combat the challenge
of developing a workforce is by being more responsible