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5 Ways to Accelerate Growth in Manufacturing

Within the past couple of years there has been a definite downswing in commerce, not only in the United States, but around the world as well. Much of this was due to restrictions being imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic but not all financial losses were due to that. At the same time, here at home we were hit with hurricanes, droughts, floods, and major fires throughout much of the West. Then there were periods of record shattering heat, and so many businesses just couldn’t stay afloat. 

As we are trying to recover from all that, there is one thing that is not-surprisingly evident. We have a need for major growth in small businesses which are the backbone of our economy. Within that group, there are small manufacturing companies and many of those are hanging on by a thread. As we begin looking forward to a new year, and hopefully a more prosperous one, it’s time to start finding ways to save our small businesses. It’s time to find at least five ways to accelerate growth in manufacturing in 2022.

1. Go Lean

Oddly, this particular discipline in the world of business has been in use for at least the last three decades yet many small businesses aren’t quite sure what it means to go lean. Yes, it is about finding ways to eliminate waste and business losses in a number of areas called “Downtime,” but it’s so much more than that. Having been developed as an almost last-ditch effort by a Motorola engineer, Bill Smith, it was also intended to once again be in the running when competing with Japan’s superior products. 

One of the first mega-corporations to adopt Sigma 6 was General Motors. Today GM partners with Kettering University’s online Masters in Lean Manufacturing, the only such partnership available. While Lean Manufacturing principles and practices are highly useful at any time, they are especially important now as the nation is trying to recover from financial losses sustained as a result of COVID-19. The manufacturing sector suffered more than a 10% loss throughout 2020 and now it’s time to accelerate growth. The hope is to more than compensate for those losses but to accelerate growth, leading our small manufacturing companies back to black and out of the red!

2. Diversify the Workforce

Another plight within manufacturing has been the increased rates of those ‘old timers’ who are retiring by the day. This is putting a huge strain on labor and the saddest thing is that the workforce isn’t being repopulated. As today’s youth are more in tune with technology, the gap in skills is widening. Fortunately, there is a diverse workforce out there, younger than retirement years who are ready, willing, and able to bring what they have to the table. 

At this point, it has been suggested that manufacturing employers revamp their hiring policies to attract those who are still considered ‘minority groups’ such as women and workers from other ethnicities. What is so appealing about this is the fact that a growing number of women are now earning graduate degrees in engineering and this is an amazing labor pool to pull from! Employers will get a ready-made workforce with all the skills being lost to retirement. It should also be noted that few from the Millennial and Gen Z generations are interested in manufacturing, so strategies should evolve to attract those who actually are!

3. Invest in Technology & Education

Another great recruitment strategy is to make funds available to invest in education. Employers across the board are budgeting resources to attract employees who are motivated to grow along with the company. If an applicant expresses a desire to become better educated in their field, this is a pretty good sign that this recruit will add something valuable to any team they are on. The operative word here is ‘motivation.’

At this point, it is also necessary to set aside a budget to invest in updated, state-of-the-art technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR). These emerging technologies are changing the way in which manufacturing functions like cutting and machining will be more efficient, safer, and significantly more productive. 

4. Encourage Collaboration

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on the concept of teamwork. In the past, employers were fond of trying to increase efficiency and productivity by running several mini contests throughout the year. Some prizes were small monetary awards while others were perhaps weekend cruises or even products such as digital cameras, game systems and prizes aimed at various age groups within the company. A person has to desire a prize to actually try for the ‘gold’ but that philosophy didn’t really encourage growth of the company. More times than not it only fostered a sense of competition within the workforce and that spilled over onto the work floor. It was difficult to get them to pool together, especially for big jobs, because they were, for all intents and purposes, at war with each other.

There are numerous ways to encourage collaboration and although not the greatest way, some bosses have turned to sponsoring team contests. Unfortunately, this can lead to issues within the workforce as well and when those teams need to work together on a major project, the results are much the same. They want to reach the finish line first which really isn’t conducive to the much-needed collaboration out on the floor.

5. Implement an Internal Mobile Communication Network

Think for just a moment of all the times you’ve been shopping in a warehouse, for example, only to see the workers communicating with those ever-present two-way radios. These are slowly being passed over for less invasive mobile communications for several reasons.

Not only are they a much quieter method of communication but they also offer a certain amount of privacy and security. They can operate on a ‘need to know’ basis in such a way that the entire population of workers in the vicinity don’t need to hear that Jane is in labor in the women’s restroom or that tomorrow’s meeting of the Board of Directors has been rescheduled. 

Another plus is that in a mobile communication system, it takes one company-wide message to alert everyone, or certain groups, that there is a security or safety issue in their department. Those loud warnings over intercoms have proven to cause more stress than necessary over the years, leading workers to panic. The better option would be to calmly message workers to vacate their stations or the premises if need be. While there will be times when it’s necessary to sound an actual alarm, as in the case of a fire, those times can be reduced, leaving anyone not involved free to focus on the task at hand.

These are all key takeaways that, if followed, can lead to greatly accelerated growth in manufacturing within the coming year.

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