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5 Ways to Improve the Everyday Experiences of Your Frontline Manufacturing Workers

The value of embracing technology and building morale

March 06, 2024

Great manufacturing leaders will always make an effort to understand the everyday experiences of workers. But unless you're truly walking by their side or in their shoes, there's often a disconnect that can result in a gap between the efforts you think frontline workers need, and what they're really looking for.

To gain more of an understanding of those everyday experiences, our second annual "Voice of the Essential Manufacturing Worker" report asked 600 frontline manufacturing workers about the successes, challenges, hopes, and expectations they experience every day.

Here are the insights they gave us in five of their major experience areas, details of the challenges they face, and actionable steps you can bring to your organization to help improve the experiences of those who get things done on the frontline every day.

1. Become a Modern Company by Embracing Technology and Modernization

Report findings:

  • 39% say their company is “very modern”
  • 49% say their company is investing in new technology more than ever
  • 48% say their company is eager to embrace new technology
  • 56% would take a pay cut to leave their current company for a more technology-driven factory

In their off hours, your workers may be testing out ChatGPT, using AI filters on social media apps, playing with smartphones, having robots deliver food, or keeping their personal information in a cloud. But when they set foot into work the next morning, wouldn't they expect the same level of technology to surround them? For many, their day-to-day activities are being impacted by a lack of technology. To create a more modern factory, manufacturing leaders can take the following actions:

Move to the cloud: Increase your versatility, security, cost savings, and ability to scale by moving your systems to the cloud.

Digitize your documents: Get rid of paper, pens, and printers by digitizing your documents so that anyone can have access to them anywhere.

Onboard an ERP to digitally manage your organization: Look for an ERP solution that collects and manages data, provides greater visibility into your operations, and is easy to use for greater adoption.

Create a plan for data management: Organizations generate a lot of data today—leverage technology to help you collect, manage, and analyze those insights.

Find use cases for emerging technology: Survey respondents said that the top technologies their companies embrace include AI, robotics, augmented reality, big data, and 3D printing. 

2. Prioritize Upskilling and Training

Report findings:

  • 70% say their company is making upskilling a priority
  • 43% plan to leave their job in the next 12 months
  • 66% would trade their current job for one that offered more upskilling, but longer hours

Workers today are looking to grow and evolve their skills, roles, and career opportunities. This is especially true in manufacturing, where frontline workers evolve alongside technology and innovation because they're overseeing its use and implementation. Create a great upskilling program with the following steps:

Determine your goals and objectives: Determine what type of upskilling you need and what existing skills you want to enhance based on new business initiatives, such as training your workers how to use new AI-driven processes.

Make a plan for delivery: Decide how you’ll deliver your upskilling initiatives, whether it’s through on-the-job training or via an online learning system.

Measure and gather feedback: Make sure that your upskilling initiatives make an impact. Track and measure the improvements you see in upskilled workers, and gather feedback from them directly to learn what went well and how you can improve in the future.

3. Foster Open Communication and Feedback Loops

Report findings:

  • “Management doesn’t listen to work feedback” is one of the top five reasons for low morale
  • The top attribute of a bad supervisor is poor communication

When your workers have questions or concerns throughout the day, are they being heard? Manufacturing leaders can take the following actions to improve their organization's communication:

Provide channels for listening and feedback opportunities: Talk to them on the shop floor, institute an open door policy, provide opportunities at meetings or one-on-ones for them to provide feedback, and institute physical or digital suggestion boxes.

Take action on feedback and communicate its results: Leadership needs to take action on that feedback as well so that workers feel like they are truly being heard. Communicate about the actions taken so that workers will be more inclined to provide feedback in the future.

Track feedback and its resolutions: Use a digital platform like your ERP to track feedback and the actions taken to resolve that feedback. It’s a much easier way to track your feedback efforts and can show you areas of needed improvement.

4. Proactively Address Workplace Morale

Report findings:

  • 45% have high morale
  • “No pay raises or bonuses” and “management doesn't respect work time” are top reasons for low morale
  • 54% say the increased cost of raw materials impacts access to resources and job insecurity
  • 69% feel adequately compensated for the work they do

Does your staff come to work each day eager to see what they can build or contribute? Not every worker has to be overflowing with peak engagement all the time, but morale should remain fairly high and positive. Many factors go into increasing morale or lowering it, including the following:

Monetary and bonuses: Improve morale through higher pay, more bonuses, or expanded benefits.

Non-monetary benefits: Non-monetary perks like gym memberships, transportation discounts, breakroom snacks, or childcare support can help increase morale as well.

Professional development opportunities: Offer workers opportunities to improve their skills and advancement through on-the-job training, external courses, access to a learning platform, mentorship programs, and more.

Flexible work schedules: Improving morale and work-life balance can be as simple as giving workers the freedom to determine their daily start and end times.

5. Invest in Sustainability and Worker Well-Being

Report findings:

  • 45% say their organization is making sustainability a high priority
  • 55% would take a pay cut to leave their current company for a more sustainable factory

Sustainability is on factory workers’ minds as well, as they want to see sustainable actions around them reflected in their workplace, too. Manufacturing leaders can take the following actions to improve their organization's sustainability efforts:

Lower waste: Reduce waste throughout your manufacturing processes by collecting, managing, and analyzing data and taking action to make processes more efficient.

Eco-friendly materials: Transition to using sustainable and eco-friendly materials in your products.

Energy efficiency: Conduct regular energy audits and make equipment upgrades to more energy-efficient units.

Sustainable supply chain: Increase your sustainability efforts by sourcing from vendors who prioritize sustainability in their business efforts.

Everyday Improvements for Manufacturing Excellence

Great manufacturing leaders will always make efforts to understand the everyday experiences of their workers. Take action to improve the areas that impact frontline manufacturing workers, including increasing your technology adoption, investing in upskilling opportunities, taking action on feedback, boosting morale, and addressing sustainability. Not only will you increase worker engagement, you’ll prepare your company for the future of manufacturing.

Download the full report for more in-depth insights and data to better support your workforce and help them adapt to the evolving manufacturing landscape.