The critical role of workforce management in CI

Posted on 24 Nov 2014 by The Manufacturer

Marc Moschetto, vice president of global marketing at Workforce Software highlights the necessity of workforce management in order to keep your business trajectory moving onwards and upwards.

Marc Moschetto, VP of global marketing at Workforce Software
Marc Moschetto, VP of global marketing at Workforce Software

For those of us in the manufacturing sector, the topic of continuous improvement is well-trodden ground. Raw materials coming in, finished product going out and every step in between has been analysed, scrutinised, and optimised in the name of efficiency and effectiveness.

Such indisputably prudent, cost-efficient measures have rightfully made the shift from ‘best practice’ to ‘prerequisite.’ Yet many manufacturers have failed to bring the rigors of continuous improvement to bear on their single most important asset: the workforce.

Many manufacturers continue to hold on to a dated view of workforce management principles. For decades, time and attendance has been regarded as the mundane technology behind the clock on the wall. However, savvy manufacturers understand that workforce management can deliver unprecedented insight into the day-to-day operations of the business—and do so at a very granular level. (Think of time and attendance as a SCADA system for your employees.

During the next several weeks, I’ll be authoring a few posts about workforce management, talent, and how your human assets are intrinsically tied to the performance and productivity of your production assets. To kick things off, here are four precepts that just might shift your perception of workforce management strategies and their role within your business and your production environments:

1. There’s more to workforce management than payslip accuracy.

Don’t get me wrong. One of the most basic (and most critical) functions of workforce management is to ensure that people are paid accurately, completely, and in full accordance with union policies and collective bargaining agreements, as well as regional, national, and corporate regulations.

However, contemporary workforce management solutions capture more than the basic ‘punch-in/punch-out’ data. They also reveal usable labour data such as: who did what, and when; how long it took; how much it cost, and more. Combined with the ability to expose that data to other applications throughout the enterprise, and this functionality adds a powerful dimension to your existing analysis and reporting activities.

2. Meaningful big data starts with accurate little data.

The term ‘big data’ has become something of a buzzword in many corners of the business world today, but for professionals who live in the world of plant-wide data historians and precise batch recipes, data has long been regarded as the lifeblood of manufacturing. Still, many manufacturers are not fully leveraging the wealth of labour data available to them through workforce management technologies.

Marc Moschetto: vice president of global marketing

Bringing over two decades of technology marketing experience to his role at WorkForce Software, Marc Moschetto serves as the company’s vice president of global marketing. He is responsible for defining WorkForce Software’s marketing strategy, as well as leading the team executing against that strategy. He has delivered his insights on technology and business needs, outsourced employee benefits administration, and workforce management in articles in various publications, Webcast presentations, blogs and social networking sites as well as traditional seminars and presentations. Previously, he was the director of industry marketing and corporate communications at Workscape and has held senior marketing roles at human capital management providers Infor/Workbrain and SmartTime.

By collecting data on employee activities—not just when they clock in, but when they begin a specific project or aspect of a project—and combining that data with information collected from plant floor systems, some remarkable patterns begin to emerge. For example, you may learn that a particular team of employees is adept at producing a higher volume of output, while another may be less productive but produce less scrap and require less rework. This knowledge helps you deploy the right team for the right job.

Now let’s take that insight up a notch. Say you have three different plants, producing similar products with similar teams; yet the data shows that Plant A is more efficient than Plants B or C.

By drilling down through the data, you may find that Plant A has a particularly effective teaming arrangement built into their scheduling processes, or perhaps they’re utilising different shift patterns that leave their employees less fatigued, making them more productive during a given work week.

Once you learn why Plant A is more effective, you can replicate those conditions at other locations. Suddenly a single-site positive anomaly becomes a new standard across the business, and the performance of your entire organisation is elevated.

You’ve undoubtedly seen this happen in other parts of your business or other areas of your production environment, particularly if you’re an adherent of Six Sigma or Lean practices, but extending that rigor down to an employee level is something few manufacturers are doing effectively today. Yet doing so represents significant opportunity for process, profitability and quality improvements.

3. Strategic scheduling can strengthen your competitive advantage.

Contemporary workforce management solutions also track employee skills, capabilities and certifications. This is critical when managers need to quickly fill scheduling gaps created by unplanned absences, but it can also be used to accelerate training, ease on-boarding, and drive continuous improvement within your staffing functions.

I have been writing about the looming ‘skills gap’ for years and have long advocated for more aggressive STEM programs and student outreach activities aimed at educating young people about the incredible technologies at play in most manufacturing environments. Though an important step, this is a longer-term solution. For a more immediate way to address skills gaps on the plant floor, look no further than your existing workforce.

Every manufacturer—process, discrete, or hybrid—has key employees they frequently look to for answers. These individuals have usually been doing the job for decades, can make the equipment run with the precision of a Swiss watch, and hold incredible knowledge about the job—nuances that could never be captured in training manuals or user guides.

If those individuals left your company tomorrow, an incredible amount of ‘tribal knowledge’ would walk out the door, as well, and your productivity would likely take a hit—unless you’ve found a way to pass that knowledge down to newer employees.

With an effective, workforce-management-driven scheduling strategy, you can create teaming arrangements whereby seasoned professionals are always scheduled to work with newer employees. This throwback to the tried-and-true ‘master craftsman/apprentice’ approach not only accelerates learning, but also serves to ensure that efficiency-gaining tips and tricks stay where they belong: under your roof.

4. Your employees are HUMAN assets.

Thinking about your workforce as an asset to be optimised is a great first step in bringing your workforce management practices in-line with the same data-centric philosophy you apply to other parts of your production environment. However, you must also take care to recognise that those human capital assets also have lives outside of the shop floor.

In my next post, we’ll explore the ways your workforce management strategy can drive greater satisfaction and engagement while simultaneously improving the productivity of your business.

What are your greatest workforce management challenges? What other labour issues are you wrestling with in your business? Take a moment to leave a comment below and share your workforce management challenges, opportunities, and success stories. I would love to hear them!

About WorkForce Software

Founded in 1999, WorkForce Software has emerged as a key player in the competitive workforce management landscape for large employers. Since the company’s inception, the company has continually grown by every measure—from the number of clients we serve, to the number of professionals we employ, to the revenues we generate and reinvest in our solutions. Today our solutions are in use by hundreds of companies around the world.

WorkForce Software’s EmpCenter® suite addresses a broad range of workforce management functionality, including time & attendance, staff scheduling, absence and leave management, employee fatigue management, and labour analytics. Through providing a complete solution designed to automate 100% of each client’s business requirements, we help large and complex organisations address some of their most pressing and strategic needs faced by HR, payroll, finance, operations and executive personnel.