There is a disturbing common denominator that keeps popping up during my travels and discussions with customers. Everyone seems to be having a tough time finding quality manpower for manufacturing doors and windows.

“Young people just don’t have the strong work ethic that we had growing up.” This is a remark that I hear over and over. “They come in here and want a high wage without proving themselves,” is another frequent statement.

One plant manager told me that he hired 40 new employees and 20 of them were gone after the first three days. All but eight were gone after a month. “Some of them just walked off the job. They just could not handle working.”

Some manufacturers have been forced to soften the requirements of their drug-testing policy. “We had to stop random drug testing,” remarked one manufacturer. “We were losing too many employees and we were facing a severe shortage of trained workers.”

Another manufacture told me that they’ve relaxed their drug-testing policy to permit a positive result for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. “We would have had to fire half our workforce if we enforced drug testing to include THC, so we now only screen for the hardcore drugs.”

So what’s the answer?  There are three possible solutions to this dilemma: One option is to add incentives to attract a higher caliber of people. Another option is to invest in automation, thereby reducing the number of manufacturing personnel necessary to run the operation. A third option is to outsource fabrication of components wherever possible to limit the number of assembly operations that must be done by skilled laborers. The best solution is to employ all three of these options in unison to achieve the best overall solution that maximizes productivity, quality and profit.

So let’s consider outsourcing. Unless you have unlimited floor space, you should look at each segment of your manufacturing facility and analyze the opportunity cost that is associated with the floor space and people being dedicated to that segment. Opportunity cost is based upon the notion of analyzing what other manufacturing operations you could be doing in that given square footage and with the number of valuable people being utilized. For example, if you are using a certain area to manufacture window screens, you might look into the possibility of outsourcing window screens and using that same floor space and people to manufacture a new product such as a high-end door or window that brings in a higher profit per production day vs. the screens. The difference in profit is the opportunity cost, which is currently being sacrificed to make the screens.

Next, let’s consider automation. When it comes to components that do make financial sense to be making in-house, consider how many people per shift are you employing to manufacture a given number of quality units per shift, what is the reject rate, what is the total cost of manufacturing those units including wages, benefits, drug testing, hiring, firing, re-hiring, training, human resource hours and lost time accidents vs. investing in automation. Once trained, a robot always remembers, does not fail a drug test, does not call in sick, and does not quit, unless you ignore maintenance. Robots can also work 24-7. Now, don’t get me wrong — I am not suggesting that we fire all of our employees and replace them with robots. But in areas where skilled labor is hard to find, or wages are extremely high, or where a job is so repetitive that it has harmful effects on people, then automation makes perfect sense.

The first option I listed above regarding incentives to people should be done with all employees. A company should treat all employees as a valuable asset.

No. 1 – invest in the employees. For God’s sake – give them the proper training. If you spend minimal time and effort training new employees because you feel you are too busy, then you can expect them to get confused, get bored, lack pride in their work and walk off the job. Now if you do all of that and they still walk off the job, then you did everything you could.

No. 2 – invest in their safety. Do not put their lives at risk. Everyone deserves the opportunity to work each day and return home safely to their family.

No. 3  – invest in their future. Perform cross training with each employee on all aspects of window and door production. This is both good for the employee and good for the company. By providing cross training, the company imparts knowledge and pride to the employees on all aspects of window and door fabrication instead of learning only one small aspect.

I once worked as a polymer chemist at a major tire manufacturer. My job was to develop heavy duty truck tire compounds. Even as a polymer chemist I became bored with working on just one part of the tire. I wanted to learn all about the other rubber formulas that made up the tire as well. So, cross training not only provides motivational power for the employee but it is also beneficial to the employer. If you lose people in one department, you can shift other people over from other departments who were properly cross-trained. By teaching employees about all aspects of door and window production, you are also grooming the future leaders of your organization. Incentives involve more than just a decent wage. All of these other factors are strong incentives to the employee in addition to his or her wage.

So yes, finding quality labor is a challenge. But we have options available to maximize the efficiency, productivity and quality in our manufacturing facilities using the proper mix of motivated manpower, automation and outsourcing. The proper formula will differ for each manufacturing organization. The challenge is to identify the formula which is the best for your company.

1 Comment

  1. Jim,

    I find the same problem with every single customer in my five state territory in the Mid South. No one is immune to the problem of finding qualified applicants that want to work and can pass the pre-employment drug sceening. It doesn’t seem to matter if they are in big cities, or in smaller rural areas.
    I would love to see more business and jobs brought back to the US from foreign countries, but I don’t foresee that happening in the near future. I really enjoy your articles. See you in September.

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