Digitally empowered workers are key to unlocking greater productivity

In the eighth of our ‘Lean manufacturing in the digital age’ series, we explore how finding the balance between people and technology creates more motivated and efficient workers and increases business productivity.

Numerous terms are often used to describe UK productivity, none of which are flattering – ‘crisis’, ‘puzzle’, ‘challenge’, ‘flatlining’.

Measuring productivity accurately is far from easy, with several different methods championed. The most accepted method, including by government and most trade associations, shows that UK productivity has barely moved since the financial crisis more than a decade ago.

This ‘lost decade’ serves to highlight the scale, depth and seriousness of the productivity issue that organisations large and small alike have been dealing with.

Many commentators attribute this sustained lack of improvement to a trio of inter-connected factors:

  • skills shortages – particularly digital aptitudes, leadership strategies and those relating more broadly to vocational careers
  • a relatively slow adoption of technologies – both hardware and software
  • and ambition (growth plans being undermined, in particular, by ongoing uncertainty)

These are by no means unique to the UK; however, few economies have to contend with the combination of all three.

Despite attempts to address low productivity in the UK, nothing has worked – particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises, often regarded as the workhorses of the British economy.

SMEs are responsible for 60% of private sector employment, and 52% of turnover, but all too often lack the time and resources to meaningfully address their productivity.

As manufacturers navigate their way out of the Covid-19 lockdown and adapt their businesses to operate in the ‘new normal’, it’s clear that Britain needs a new way of thinking about – and improving – productivity.

The ‘new normal’

Many businesses are using the interruption caused by Covid-19 as an opportunity to step back and assess their operations, exploring in detail what tasks are routinely being completed (or not), the people and processes involved, and how long each step takes.

More often than not, these investigations uncover out-dated, inefficient people-focused initiatives and siloed, unintuitive or outdated tech that doesn’t serve its purpose.


Middle aged industrial worker with notebook tablet digital transformation maintenance - shutterstock_19026346


A common cause is management teams regarding staff development and technology as two separate issues. Instead, businesses need to adopt a holistic philosophy that balances both at once, one that empowers workers with integrated, intelligent solutions that help them to focus their attention on activities that create value.

Instead of needlessly spending hours on time-consuming and laborious routine tasks like updating systems information and reporting, employees can focus on the more rewarding aspects of their job roles, which will ultimately make them want to give more of their best.

It also means a worker can spend more of their time on training and development, and on continuous process improvements. Both of which should result in increased individual output and greater business-wide productivity.

Given the myriad of economic difficulties businesses are expected to face in the near future, it’s vital that manufacturers start thinking about this now.

One business to have already started on that journey is a Worcestershire-based manufacturer of precision gears for the power transmission industry.

Success story

Established almost 30 years ago, continual reinvestment in machinery means that the company now has the capability to machine gears up to 1.2 metres in diameter.

The business has been expanding rapidly of late, experiencing a 40% growth in turnover in just two years.

Though excellent news for the business, the growth meant maintaining control of jobs on the shop floor, at the same time as expanding and building a skilled workforce. This was becoming increasingly difficult for the founder and managing director.


Electricity Pylon UK Energy.


An engineer himself, the MD found that the increased workload meant that he was working 12+ hour days on a regular basis. If he was not managing production, winning business with clients and monitoring quality procedures, he was out on the shop floor helping with production.

The business found itself with too much work to handle and no control over the process. Furthermore, quality was being compromised and the team struggled to determine whether or not jobs were making a profit or loss, nor by how much.

Reduced pressure, increased confidence

The decision was made to invest in Access MRP from award-winning software provider Access Group.

The integrated production control solution returned the control of sales orders, work orders, manufacturing instructions and route cards, full batch traceability and job costing to key personnel within the business in a manner which reduced pressure and increased confidence in decision making.

“[The system] has become second nature to personnel and is now key to our infrastructure on traceability and quality,” explains the company’s managing director.

“It gives me the information I need at the touch of a button. For example, the whereabouts of a job, or how much it cost to make. If I need to change a route card or review the issue number on a set of manufacturing instructions, it is user-friendly, quick and simple.”

“I was under enormous pressure, working long hours before we had Access MRP. I would estimate that it has taken probably 40-50% of that pressure off me. Furthermore, I would estimate that the system has saved me employing two more people (in planning and production control) at £25K per annum each.”

Give productivity the attention it deserves by choosing software that puts you and your workforce back in control – allowing production to run leaner and smarter.

For UK manufacturers wanting to learn about the benefits from using Lean in a modern world, visit The Access Group’s Lean manufacturing hub.

Check out the other articles in our ‘Lean manufacturing in the digital age’ series:

  1. The key to Lean Manufacturing in the digital age
  2. Is Frankenstein’s monster disrupting your Production Planning?
  3. Don’t let Legacy Software be the albatross around your neck
  4. Does your Supply Chain contain more holes than Swiss cheese?
  5. Greater Productivity isn’t delivered by hand
  6. Could the loss of one person sink your business?
  7. Supply Chain Transparency – helping manufacturers to deliver the goods
  8. Digitally Empowered Workers are key to unlocking greater productivity

  9. Operational Agility – is your business more sloth than monkey?
  10. R&D: You miss every shot you don’t aim for

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*All images courtesy of Shutterstock