Getting your own house in order: Taking ownership of the productivity problem

Posted on 6 Dec 2021 by The Manufacturer
Partner Content

What does workforce productivity and environmental sustainability have in common? The answer of course could be many things, but certainly one is how both subjects are known to create seemingly endless debate on what can be done to fix the problem.

Both topics also attract a lot of commentary on the underlying causes. For productivity, these are typically attributed to factors such as a lack of investment and training, Brexit, short-term corporate governance, and greater economic uncertainty. All well and good, but the challenge is that most of these issues are a little abstract and unless you’re a government minister they’re also hard to influence.

It should also be noted that the solutions being discussed will inevitably take years to implement before they begin delivering small, incremental benefits. And probably most important of all, they place much of the responsibility into the hands of others to deliver the ’big changes’ which we hope will lead to positive change – sound like recent climate discussions?

Number crunching

Productivity however is definitely not “someone else’s problem”. Indeed, reality suggests that a large number of UK manufacturers are only operating at around a 30% productivity rating. The reason this matters so acutely is evident when you look at wider industry numbers:

  • The UK has approximately 150,000 manufacturing companies
  • The average salary is £32,500 p.a.

Granted not every employee is paid to be on the shop floor and these numbers are only averages, but we can extrapolate. For example, a firm with 50 people has a wage bill of around £1.6m – but 30% productivity means that only around £450-500,000 of this expense covers actual productive activity. That’s a big problem that no politician is going to fix. Not that we expect them to, as there are far more immediate fixes that can be applied to achieve a rating of 80% and beyond.

Factory floor image courtesy of ShutterStock

Basic questions

As for what these fixes are, they don’t have to be exclusively connected to wide-ranging digital transformation initiatives. These certainly play a part, but the real results begin when companies can master the foundational basics. Doing that starts when you can answer three basic questions:

  1. Do you know the real underlying causes of downtime and reasons for employee inactivity?
  2. Are you able to act on these causes in time to negate their effects?
  3. Can you empower employees to work at their optimal efficiency?

Three simple questions really, but the devil is very much in the detail. Take point one, where rudimentary data collection will only provide a view into who did what, why, and when. Yes, you’ll be able to identify idle times, but not necessarily the true causes – be they a machine breakdown or a lack of raw materials etc. For any data to be meaningful it also needs to be open to immediate and historical analysis.

Productivity can only be truly addressed if people understand root causes, and to connect these with factors not instantly identifiable. So if raw materials weren’t available this could be because crane capacity was taken up by other jobs, which ultimately is a scheduling issue.

Not that ‘knowing’ is the only issue to resolve. Companies also need to know in time to act, as figuring out it was a crane issue doesn’t help if the job finished a week ago – even if it does allow for future remedies. This is why data needs to be real-time to give management and operators the insight they need to respond instantly to scheduling or resource disruption.

Just as importantly these insights need to be actively pushed out to the workforce, alongside all the supporting assets they need – training videos, best practice guidance and notes from other operators etc. – to perform the task effectively. Capabilities that demand manufacturing firms abandon paper-based systems in favour of real-time data collection, sharing, and analysis.

At MESTEC we’ve created a five-stage maturity model for helping manufacturers understand where they currently sit, and what capabilities and actions are needed to reach the next level. You can find out more by visiting Mestec here.