Written by David Hughes of workforce management software firm, Crown Computing
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Financial pressure, digitalisation, shifting demand and global competition represent a significant challenge to manufacturing businesses. Day-to-day, businesses face difficult decisions on how to deal with peaks and troughs in demand whilst remaining competitive in tough economic conditions.
A recent survey by the CBI showed that despite UK manufacturers’ experiencing an all time low in Q3 of last year, and despite the persistently gloomy economic backdrop, UK businesses are positive about the future.
Expectations that orders (and particularly domestic orders) will rise may be a major factor in why 22 percent of businesses who took part in the survey said they plan to invest in product and process innovation, with a further 14 percent investing in staff training.
This commitment to investment doesn’t extend to tangible assets such as buildings and machinery, however.
The findings suggest that manufacturers realise the importance of making the most of the skills and flexibility of their workforce, which are key to responding to orders, and which can arrive digitally at a moment’s notice from clients located almost anywhere.
In this environment, it’s essential to offer excellent service at a competitive price. With little opportunity for flexibility in assets such as buildings and plants, it’s a small wonder that organisations are looking to their employees to make the most of their time to keep their competitive edge.
To meet the challenges of peaks and troughs in demand, manufacturers have traditionally used overtime and temporary workers, but these often come at a cost to morale and quality, as well as budget.
One organisation that has taken a different approach to overcome the problems presented by varying demand is plastic sheet manufacturer Palram. Based in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, Palram has a broad customer base in continental Europe, where lengthy shut-downs take place in the height of summer, typically during July and August. To Palram, this has traditionally represented a significant slow-down and a waste of its skilled workforce, but it was reluctant to lay workers off during downtime and a trial of an unpaid holiday scheme didn’t work well.
Case study - Palram
Palram’s production environment has the facility to operate 24/7 and Crown consulted with staff and suggested options for the most appropriate shift patterns for each of its two sites, a process which included setting the scene and getting staff on board.
One important benefit for employees is that their new employment contract includes 100 unallocated reserve hours which can be used to tide Palram over at times of unexpected high demand, when workers can be asked to work longer hours than normal. This incentivises the right behaviours as Palram will write off any hours remaining unused at the end of the year, essentially rewarding employees for delivering output and quality targets.
With this, and by countering employees’ fears of losing out on overtime with the benefits of a predictable salary, and greater job security, the new working patterns were almost universally accepted.
Palram is now in the enviable position where it fulfilled orders five percent higher with fewer staff and very little overtime, and is taking the opportunity to review and assess shift patterns for the coming year.
Introducing annualised hours is just one approach to remaining competitive, but it’s important to remember the gamut of issues that can arise in the business of managing and rewarding staff. Traditional Time & Attendance systems (T&A) can play their part but are often quite limited in terms of their functionality, they often just record hours worked rather than what is actually occurring during the working day.
As complexity grows, it also becomes harder to keep on top of workforce activity, identify patterns, drill down and deal with issues as they arise, particularly if companies are using disparate systems to monitor this or in some cases try to do it manually .
Therefore a modern automated workforce management system can be an extremely valuable investment that enables managers to make timely and informed business decisions. Both employees and managers can benefit from a system which does the hard work of identifying patterns in staff behaviour, productive time, leave and absence to name but a few.
In a manufacturing environment that has moved on to a globalised and digitised age, getting the most out of a skilled manufacturing workforce is more important than ever. In this environment, flexible working schemes and workforce management systems can play their part in helping manufacturers meet their customers’ increasing demands.