Posted on Aug 1, 2019

Manufacturing company owners and managers generally focus their attention on what’s happening — or isn’t happening — on the plant floor. Activities in overhead departments, such as human resources (HR), can become a secondary consideration. If this sounds like your company, consider this: Manufacturing is a labor-intensive industry, and you can’t afford to ignore HR.

A well-oiled HR department enables your business to run on all cylinders and overcome many challenges. Conversely, HR problems can slow down your company’s growth. If, for example, HR doesn’t proactively search for new machine operators, you may not be able to fill a big order that comes in unexpectedly.

7 Critical Functions

Here are seven ways HR departments can support a manufacturing company’s operational and performance objectives:

1. Recruitment.

This may be HR’s most important function. Finding the best talent to keep the plant humming without breaking the bank is always an issue, but it’s even more so in the current tight labor market. Today’s unemployment rate has reached record lows in some markets, and many applicants lack the skills and training to operate complex machines and computers that are used by advanced manufacturers.

One challenges for HR is that Millennials have shown less interest in manufacturing than previous generations. This may be due to a widely held misconception that manufacturing isn’t “cutting-edge.” Some younger workers may also believe that manufacturing jobs aren’t secure due to a reliance on temps to handle seasonal or periodic work.

The numbers bear this out. According the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), in the first quarter of 2019 more than 25% of manufacturers had to turn down new business opportunities for lack of skilled employees. By 2025, millions of manufacturing jobs are expected to go unfilled. Your HR department must constantly strategize and think creatively to ensure that this doesn’t happen to your company.

2. Compensation.

For many manufacturers, compensation is the second largest business expense next to raw materials. Of course, wages alone aren’t enough to attract the top talent. Today, jobseekers look for a complete package that includes a good salary, benefits and perks, such as bonuses, paid time off and retirement plans.

Your HR team needs to know enough about the labor market to offer the best combination of these elements. At the same time, HR must align salary and incentive programs with your company’s performance markers — all while working within a tight budget. It’s a tough balancing act.

3. Health care benefits.

No question, the biggest-ticket under the benefits umbrella is health insurance. As health care costs rise, premiums will also continue to soar.

HR managers must balance the needs of employees against the cost to your company. Increasingly, this means asking workers to pay a larger percentage of premiums and accept high deductibles. But your company can’t put too much of the burden on employees or it risks losing them. HR must understand the health insurance marketplace and know how to find the best “deals” without sacrificing quality or violating laws governing employer-sponsored health insurance. This may require them to outsource some work to benefits experts.

4. Training.

Manufacturers hoping to rely on “interchangeable” workers probably won’t last long in the global marketplace. You need workers with specialized skills — and that means devoting resources to training.

Extra training isn’t only about the right hands operating critical machines. When workers are well-trained, they tend to care more about the quality of work, leading to higher productivity. Accordingly, HR should use every tool at its disposal, including mentoring, coaching, internships, career development plans, tuition reimbursements and motivational speakers.

5. Performance management.

Skilled performance management promotes employee success and, if HR is successful, results in better financial performance. Many HR managers design and implement internal employee appraisal programs. But input from performance management consultants can be valuable as new “best practices” emerge.

6. Labor relations.

In most U.S. states, manufacturers can’t ignore unions. Managing union relations may fall to your HR department. It’s important that this team maintains a positive and productive relationship with unions and union members. Of course, if conflict arises, upper management must step in.

7. Compliance.

Whether they want to be or not, HR managers must be labor law experts. Your HR manager may be responsible for drawing up policies that protect workers and keeping corporate officers abreast of changing regulations. There’s little room for error because failure to comply with labor laws can lead to litigation and financial penalties.

Protect Your Assets

Your company’s HR department to integral to its success. Make sure that this team receives the budgetary and other support it needs to excel at recruiting, training, reviewing, compensating and protecting your most valuable asset — your workforce.

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