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Transforming manufacturing onboarding and training

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October 5, 2023


If you’ve struggled to keep your manufacturing business staffed in recent years, you’re not alone. And the issue isn’t going away any time soon. A 2021 study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute found three out of four manufacturers expect to have “ongoing issues attracting and retaining workers” in the years ahead. The study predicted a shortfall of 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2030.

Demographics account for part of the problem, says Andrew Robling, principal product marketing manager for Epicor Software Corp. Baby boomers are now at retirement age, and Covid caused a further exodus out of manufacturing.

But, he says, although those larger trends play a role, in many cases, the hiring churn is worsened by manufacturers’ own ineffective training systems. “When new hires are trained and onboarded quickly and effectively, they can hit the ground running,” he says.

That means fewer costly errors and safety concerns on the shop floor, greater employee satisfaction and higher retention rates. In fact, LinkedIn’s 2020 Global Talent Trends report indicates companies that rank highly for employee training see 53 per cent lower attrition.

The problem with traditional methods

Training manuals and on-the-job shadowing have long been the go-to tools for onboarding new employees in the manufacturing industry. In practice that means new hires typically receive orientation and training off the shop floor, then follow a more senior employee around the plant for a couple of days watching what they do.

When the training period is over, the new hires are turned loose, frequently with nothing to guide them but “a dusty old three-ring binder that likely has outdated reference material,” says Dan McKiernan, senior sales manager with Epicor. “They just have to dive in and try to do the best they can with the information provided. They might be confused and sometimes they are afraid to ask questions. Next thing you know, they’ve produced 100 parts and they’re all bad.”

Even worse, the employee may feel incompetent and opt not to stay. “There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re lost,” McKiernan says.

The “smart” approach

It doesn’t have to be that way, McKiernan contends. Manufacturing solutions, such as Epicor’s Connected Process Control, integrate smart tools and technologies for manufacturing that modernize the workplace and revolutionize the process of training and teaching new skills.

Rather than being left to flounder on the shop floor after initial training, Epicor’s connected frontline workers use tools like industrial PCs or tablets to access step-by-step instructions in the form of videos, text, GIFs and PDFs. “They ensure that proper instructions are there for the operator in real time, right when they’re required,” McKiernan says.

In today’s increasingly complex manufacturing facilities, that translates to greater accuracy, fewer defects and faster training. “We can usually reduce training time by 50 per cent, but often it’s far more,” McKiernan adds.

He points to a client who took on a job building robotic cells. “They struggled to find operators,” he says, “so they were bringing in people with minimal experience. It took two weeks of non-productive orientation time before they could do anything at all.” In contrast, “by four days, we had the employees on the floor, in their own cell, building their first machine,” he says.

 

Continuous monitoring

Once new hires hit the shop floor, you need some way of monitoring their readiness and outcomes. That’s where integrated “smart” sensors and devices such as scales, gauges, cameras and DC torque tools come into play, helping you to measure and verify correct assembly.

“We can monitor how long it takes the new hire to do each task,” Robling says. “And we know how long a task should take. The employee gets instant feedback so they know if they’re meeting expectations.” The system also tracks whether any single person is sending an abnormal amount of stuff to be reworked. “That might be a training issue,” McKiernan notes.

Alerts and notifications of faults in parts or assembly are also a critical piece of the puzzle, he says. In the past, he points out, you’d have to wait for a supervisor to tell you what to do. But with Industry 4.0 technology, new hires know right away when there’s a problem and they’re prompted (via digital instructions) to take appropriate steps to remedy the situation. “You can’t advance unless you have a good outcome,” McKiernan says.

Ultimately, says Robling, even the ability to use technology on the plant floor is a draw, particularly for young people who may not have considered a career in manufacturing because they perceive it as a “dirty” job. “Young people want to use technology,” he says. “If we can bring technology to the shop floor and give them tools that make their job easier and make them feel more valued, that all helps with recruitment and retention.”


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