Various manufacturing workers having a conversation

Manufacturing Workforce Management: The Complete Guide

by James Howe, on March 03, 2023
One of the biggest challenges for many manufacturing organizations is workforce management. At the same time, effectively managing the workforce is critical to the success of manufacturing operations. Business leaders within these organizations need to have a clear view of the specific workforce management issues they face and how to overcome them.

Effective workforce management in a manufacturing setting can be achieved through a variety of strategies and tools. These include workforce management software, a staffing/workforce partner, a dedicated employee development program and more. One or more of these may be the solution for the workforce challenges your organization is currently facing.

In our guide below, we examine what’s involved with workforce management in manufacturing, how to do it effectively, and what issues you need to be mindful of.

What is Workforce Management in Manufacturing?

Workforce management in manufacturing refers to the process of sourcing, deploying, retaining, and managing workers in a manufacturing environment.  Part of the overall process can also include developing and implementing a labor strategy for the organization.

Specific tasks in manufacturing workforce management can include:
  • Recruiting candidates
  • Interviewing potential employees
  • Onboarding new hires
  • Scheduling employees to ensure adequate staffing for all shifts
  • Employee training and development
  • Employee engagement
  • Evaluating employee performance
  • Upskilling / Reskilling
  • Terminating employees when necessary
It’s important to note that these responsibilities can vary within each company. Specifically, the responsibilities are often dictated by the size and structure of the organization.

For example, a manager in a large organization with a fully-staffed HR department will likely have fewer workforce management responsibilities than a manager in a small organization with a partially-staffed HR team. In both situations, required tasks are being handled, the only difference is who is responsible and the manager’s level of involvement.

Additionally, many manufacturers may have a workforce that consists of full and part-time internal employees, as well as contingent workers that are employees of an outside agency. While the external, contingent labor is partially managed by an agency, someone within the manufacturing organization is still responsible for managing certain aspects of the workers’ performance.

Looking for more information? Check out our guide on recruiting warehouse workers.

Challenges of Managing a Manufacturing Workforce

Managing a workforce is challenging enough regardless of industry, but manufacturers face unique issues that often present additional layers of difficulty. 

Some of the specific challenges leaders face in managing a manufacturing workforce include:
  • Significant labor shortage
  • Low employee engagement
  • High turnover and attrition
  • Increased job competition
  • Insufficient development opportunities
  • Lack of skills
  • Understanding of the manufacturing industry
  • Safety training and compliance
A number of these issues have glaring data to back up their significance, including a recent study that noted an estimated 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled by 2030.

Despite the challenges facing manufacturing leaders, the obstacles aren’t insurmountable. Following the right process will ensure success when managing a manufacturing workforce.

How to Properly Manage a Manufacturing Workforce

With the wide range of variables in a manufacturing organization, there is almost never a “silver bullet” solution for properly managing a workforce. Instead, managers and leaders need to take multiple, carefully planned steps to effectively get the job done.

Below are the key steps that should be followed.

1.Create and Administer a Highly Effective Onboarding Program

Creating a positive first impression for new employees through your onboarding program will go a long way in successfully managing your workforce. In fact, many executives believe a new hire’s decision to stay with a company is made within the first six months. Some manufacturing leaders we’ve spoken to believe a decision is made even sooner than six months.

A well-structured program will help workers get accustomed to the organization while also helping them ease into their roles. Rushing employees through onboarding may get them producing faster but will likely cause long-term issues. New employees may feel undervalued if they’re simply thrown into their position with little to no support or training.

The exact length and format of your onboarding program will depend on various factors including the size and structure of your organization, the types of roles you’re filling, and the general skill level of new employees.

2.Utilize Demand Planning and Forecasting to Anticipate Labor Needs

Knowing how to properly balance your workforce in conjunction with production goals is critical in manufacturing. There are likely times when your production targets are significantly higher, and you’ll need more workers to meet your goals. This is where demand planning and forecasting come in.

Demand planning and forecasting assist in managing your manufacturing workforce by:
  • Matching headcount to production targets
  • Reducing excessive overtime for workers
  • Being adequately prepared for ramp-ups in production
  • Helping employees avoid burnout
If you’ve struggled with demand planning in the past, it may be wise to get help from a workforce management partner. Our team at Landrum Workforce Solutions is experienced in demand planning. We work with you to ensure your workforce structure and headcount are always appropriately matched to your production needs.

3.Provide Feedback and Use Shift Startup Meetings

Similar to the importance of an effective onboarding program, timely and useful feedback can make or break a worker’s experience, especially if they’re new to your organization. If you’ve got Gen Z workers in your workforce, feedback may be even more crucial as data has shown that they prefer frequent check-ins with their managers regarding performance.

A shift startup meeting can be an excellent tool for providing feedback and may also provide other benefits. Having a brief, 5-10 minute meeting at the beginning of a shift can be an opportunity for leaders to provide individual and team feedback on performance.

When utilizing these meetings, feedback should be strategic. For example, individual feedback should only be positive, while team feedback can be both positive and negative, assuming it’s always constructive.

In addition to using these meetings as feedback opportunities, workers are also likely to feel a greater sense of engagement with their work. Ultimately, this can lead to improved performance, reduced turnover, and even more positive outcomes.

Looking for more tips on how to reduce turnover? Check out our blog on how to reduce turnover in manufacturing.

4.Offer Career Development and Skill Building Opportunities

Providing employees with upskilling, reskilling, and leadership development opportunities makes them more versatile and generally increases their job satisfaction. However, this may also cause some employees to seek new jobs elsewhere thanks to enhanced skill sets. Ultimately, the pros outweigh the cons in this situation.

An effective skill-building and career development program can help:
  • Increase job satisfaction
  • Stabilize the workforce
  • Build an internal talent pipeline for high-skill roles
  • Reduce recruiting and onboarding costs
  • Provide flexibility as workers are quickly moved to high-priority roles
Instead of spending resources recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding potential new employees you can tap into your current workforce and upskill/reskill where necessary. You’ll need to fill the vacated role left by workers in this situation, but assuming it’s an entry-level position, this is often easier to do.

Get Workforce Management Help Through Landrum Workforce Solutions

Managing a manufacturing workforce can be a difficult task, but we’re here to help. Landrum Workforce Solutions has been supporting businesses, including manufacturers, with their workforce needs for over 50 years. No matter what challenges our clients have faced, we’ve put our expertise to work to help them overcome and succeed.

Our dependable, performance-based process provides you with:
  • Reduced per-unit labor cost
  • Improved efficiency aligned with your KPIs
  • Increased employee engagement
  • Scalable labor strategies
  • And more
Ready to get started? Contact our team today.

Looking for more information? Learn more about our workforce management services.
James Howe

Jim Howe is the VP of Workforce Solutions for LandrumHR. He has more than 20 years of leadership experience in the Staffing Industry, having worked for a couple large national organizations. Jim’s expertise has been in building teams, growing revenue and profitability, while working in tandem with his clients to implement workforce management solutions focused on attracting, engaging and retaining the right workforce.

View more blogs by James Howe