At DEVELOP LLC, we understand the seduction of quick, low cost, low effort solutions to the labor shortage even when they depend on shaky logic, unlikely scenarios, and unworkable promises. If you can solve a serious problem without relying on a long-term plan, even a long-term plan that guarantees your success, it feels easier. You don’t have to waste time and energy understanding easy solutions. People that ride out the crisis with a short-term stop gap take credit for genius instead of irrationality if the labor market returns to the status quo.
A cottage industry has arisen with promises of slick cost containment strategies, pivots, and thought leader driven scenarios designed to pull companies away from long term solutions to the labor crisis. CNBC reported that in 2022 labor shortages reached 65 unemployed workers for every 100 jobs. This staggering ‘body gap’ affects every post pandemic business, and the same short sightedness that props up these easy solutions assumes the pandemic affected everyone equally.
A thought leader can’t wish band aids into panacea. Manufacturers need industrial solutions. The only solution for manufacturers that comprehensively solves labor shortages with consideration, growth, and intelligent planning is custom industrial automation. At DEVELOP LLC, we’d like to address the most highly touted nonindustrial ways to address labor shortages and why they are completely impractical to manufacturers.
“Shuttering, reducing hours, waiting for economic recovery”
During the pandemic, the CDC classified manufacturing labor as 1B and 1C essential workers, just below medical staff. Industrial manufacturers make up the backbone of America’s supply line. Removing a manufacturer from shift structure hours disrupts supply chains in food, medicine, agriculture, transportation, energy, housing, chemicals, and more. Manufacturers don’t operate on retail sales, they depend on bulk orders, tight margins, and scheduled delivery. One manufacturing bottleneck cripples an industry. How does reducing the opportunities to use manufacturing labor entice the workforce to make a career in industrial manufacturing?
Reducing hours, shuttering, and waiting for recovery only works if the manufacturing jobs are coming back short term. While other industries are recovering or adapting, it’s predicted that 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will be unfulfilled by 2030. In the short term, non-manufacturing companies can afford to wait for labor to come back. Industrial manufacturing doesn’t have this luxury. The workers aren’t coming back for nothing. Industrial production demand has only risen, manufacturing companies have a choice between developing a long-term solution or a slow steady death.
“Raises and Perks”
Why not just use the infinite money we all have? There is room in an economy that hasn’t increased minimum wage in over a decade to attract workers with higher wages and perks, but industrial manufacturing doesn’t have the same leeway. Before the pandemic started, industrial manufacturing was suffering a labor shortage. Years of strawman arguments and scapegoating had driven the labor force away from manufacturing jobs, trade schools, and industrial opportunities. Manual labor comes with inherent bottlenecks, requirements for some dangerous, dirty, repetitive, low skill work, and requirements for specialized skilled labor. Retiring workers cannot be bought with raises and perks, and each time one of these workers retire they permanently eliminate years of institutional memory, specialized skills, and manufacturing knowhow from the industry. A production line requires labor at every station, but both high skill and low skill manufacturing workers are vulnerable to shortages.
Even if raises and perks stoke employment, you’re supporting a stagnant system rather than long term growth. Even if you fill every lost job in your manufacturing, all you’ve accomplished is getting your manufacturing back to the level of production you had previously but at a higher cost. You’re not achieving the same work environment improvements, advancement opportunities, job satisfaction targets, and safety requirements that automated manufacturing does as an afterthought of growth, profit, and throughput gains. Even in the best scenario, a maximum employment strategy just sets the cost bar higher for the next employment crisis. If the great resignation has taught anything, it’s that money and perks won’t draw people back to a suboptimal environment.
“Flexible Work Environment”
It’s completely reasonable for some non-manufacturing jobs to transition to work from home, hybrid workplace employment structures. If the responsibilities to your employer can be fulfilled with a laptop during irregular hours, ‘culture’ is a weak justification for strangling your workforce attractiveness.
Manufacturers can’t support a flexible work environment. Manufacturing work requires tools, heavy machinery, production lines, factory floors, and access to bulk materials. Manufacturers can’t work from home. Manufacturing requires a continuous shift work structure to maintain rigid deadlines and quotas. During the pandemic manufacturers had a choice between shutting down or soldiering on with PPE, changing CDC regulations, and whatever staff they could muster. Don’t waste your energy on recommendations that can’t happen.
“Work harder, with longer shifts”
Only in the short term can a worker ignore work life balance, press on through multiple shifts, and do the work of multiple employees. A recent report from Forbes revealed that the medical field may have lost 20% of its healthcare professionals to burnout related to overwork and inability to live their lives outside of their job. The pandemic exposed everyone in the medical profession to extremes in workload and shift expectations while sacrificing their safety. We bemoan but are not surprised to see highly paid and professionally respected medical professionals exiting or pivoting to less demanding work. No labor force exists that can maintain extreme workload, overtime, and expectations long term. Demanding longer shifts validates the worst stereotypes of manufacturing.
Nonindustrial automation suggestions that are just suggestions to automate
There are other labor shortage solutions that clothe themselves in the veneer of short-term leadership hacks, but end up just advocating for investment in custom automation integration.
“Create a safe environment”
How can you make the work environment better without changing your work environment? Too many of the non-automation integration recommendations revolve around disguised cost containment strategies or micromanagement tools that will only drive away your labor force. Responsibly integrated automated machines increase worker safety, improve worker conditions, take on repetitive stress tasks, and handle dangerous conditions. A custom integration can even be designed to offload the physically demanding portions of the production line to increase the longevity of elderly workers, or level the work environment for workers with health conditions or physical impairments.
“Offer career growth and continuing education”
How can you entice workers with career growth on the production line when you’re dealing with high turnover, stagnant openings, and stale growth? Machine maintenance, operation, process engineering, safety inspection, and training will require an entirely new set of career choices for your manufacturing line. The increased production capacity will allow your business to pursue entirely new revenue streams, those revenue streams will drive companywide innovation, and that innovation will generate creative, rewarding, and satisfying employment opportunities. The New Collar Workforce, technology assisted industrial automated integration education, allows unskilled laborers to learn on the job high skill high aptitude training previously only open to degree seeking or trade school certified workers.
“Audit your business for process improvement”
This isn’t a bad suggestion, but it’s vague enough to allow business owners to assume the solution is cost containment, reducing product lines, and cutting necessary company versatility. The difference between streamlining your core business and micromanaging your offerings into oblivion is a slippery slope. There is a finite upper limit to the amount of change that you can make to improve the quality of stagnant manual processes without getting into micromanagement. We’ve never heard of an employee attracted to micromanagement. Real process improvement, the kind that improves quality, speed, safety, retention, job satisfaction, consistency, and growth, comes with the basic advantages of custom automation integration.
At DEVELOP LLC, we are confident that short term plans beget short term loyalty, effort, and sustainability. Our project managers, software engineers, and manufacturing experts know how to scope your business and design a custom machine solution that will turn you into the ideal company for your workforce. Tell us more about your project, schedule a virtual meeting, or call (262)-622-6104 to learn how you can sustain your workforce with automated solutions.