Last year I wrote about the importance of replacing knowledge and experience on the plant floor in the wake of the “great retirement.” This remains important today, if not even more so. As the door and window industry moves forward, we must do everything we can to cultivate a new generation of professionals to help our businesses succeed.

Part of that means making the most of the time we have with some of those more experienced folks on our plant floor, which can be done better by enabling younger and older workers to work collaboratively with one another. When all your teams are working in harmony, knowledge sharing will happen naturally.

But you may find this is easier said than done. So how can we better foster this kind of culture? That brings me to today’s tip:

Take advantage of different generational skill sets.

It’s likely that your more experienced workers maintain different skills and interests than their younger counterparts—but both are important, and manufacturers can take advantage of them in a way that best suits the needs of your shop floor and your business. The benefits of doing so are twofold: you’ll be able to better deliver high-performance doors and windows to your customers, and you’ll likely see an increase in employee engagement and potentially in retention, too.

Here’s an example. You know by now that modern automated glass processing equipment can help you optimize your pace of production, throughput, quality and consistency. These machines are increasingly equipped with new tools that help production shops gain deeper insight into production processes. Sensors, for example, can help automatically adjust settings and generate data you can leverage for better decision-making. Operators might analyze that data and control machine function via touchscreens.

Here’s your opportunity to leverage cross-generational skills for everyone’s benefit. Your 25-year-old new hire grew up using computers and smartphones—and you may find that he or she flourishes in a digitally controlled environment. Meanwhile, your more experienced staffers may have a better eye for product quality and more traditional plant skills like safety, continuous improvement and others.

The takeaway is this: Talk to your people, weigh their strengths and interests, and put them in positions where they’re more likely to succeed. Further, encourage them to share their skills with each other. Younger and older workers have a lot to learn from each other, and when they do it can lead to big operational benefits. Especially at a time when it’s critical for knowledge and expertise to stay within your four walls rather than walk out the door completely when someone retires.

Putting your people in the best position to succeed is important, and leveraging the skills of every generation of workers is one way to do it. It’ll be even more critical in the coming years. Getting the most from your equipment, maintaining product quality and consistency, and fostering a safe and collaborative culture all depend on it.

John Ryba is Technical Services Manager for Quanex.

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