The manufacturing industry continues to face considerable labor challenges. An estimate by The Manufacturing Institute 1 states that by 2030 there will be over two million unfilled manufacturing jobs in the United States. The economic impact of this employment gap would be catastrophic.
While some employees are leaving for other industries, an aging workforce is also rapidly moving into retirement. It’s not an unexpected exodus, yet manufacturers have been unable to keep up the needed pace of employment as they struggle to attract and recruit younger workers to fill in the gaps. The effects of this worker shortage will be felt up and down the line, particularly in leadership positions.
Meeting the recruitment challenge means embracing diversity by casting a broad net into a wider range of communities and engaging with a more diverse set of demographics. After all, great employees, and great leaders, can come from anywhere.
Let’s take a closer look at how a company can fill its’ frontline leadership gap.
Manufacturing Partnerships in Education
As in many situations – education can hold the key to success. One way manufacturing businesses can overcome their employment challenges is by sponsoring outreach programs at high schools, trade schools and technical colleges.
The goal would be to develop programs with those institutions that would expand a student’s education while also providing a look into the benefits of a manufacturing career. This partnership could include apprenticeships and degrees from technical schools which provide a particular type of guaranteed hands-on experience that is more accessible and achievable for some students versus pursuing a traditional (and far more expensive) four-year college diploma.
Create Manufacturing Careers, Not Just Jobs
The challenge for HR teams is to help the person interested in a manufacturing job to see that they can build a rewarding career in the industry. Part of the recruitment strategy should be to highlight distinct career paths for frontline workers that will enable them to develop new leadership skills and eventually advance into leadership positions.
The development of these career paths needs to be intentional. If you don’t already have one, your team should develop a formalized leadership training program that can give new hires and frontline workers a clear pathway to advancement.
Why is a formalized training program needed over some on-the-job experience?
10% — the number of frontline leaders who have stated they felt prepared to move into a leadership role.
Three Keys for Making Leadership More Attractive to Frontline Workers
To attract frontline workers, a leadership training 2 program should clearly share information in three key areas::
- Benefits that workers will gain by becoming frontline leaders.
Employees may see the benefits of a move towards a leadership position strictly in a financial sense and while that is a benefit, it’s not the only one. Other benefits include:
- The personal fulfillment that comes from learning new skills.
- Achieving career growth.
- Enjoying a greater level of employee satisfaction
- Having an opportunity to make a bigger difference in the company from the bottom line to building culture.
- Being in a position to help elevate the careers of others.
- A clear description of the personal and professional qualities your management team is looking for in prospective frontline leaders.
Team members need to understand the specific skills that make a good leader in your company and how to better develop them in their professional lives.
- A distinct set of goals that employees can aim for as they advance in the company.
Build out a list of specific benchmarks that employees can work toward so both they, and senior leaders, can measure their progress in practical ways.
What Qualities Make a Good Frontline Leader?
What are the leadership characteristics you want to develop in your frontline workers 3? And how can you help your most essential employees build them?
Some of the important traits your may be looking for in frontline managers include:
Good frontline leaders need to be easily accessible to their teams. Leading from a distance does not inspire others and is not very effective.
But what does accessibility mean? It’s about being present, prompt, and perceptive. When one of your team needs you, they should know how to reach you and should have a strong sense that you’ll respond.
Visible frontline leaders are hands-on. They don’t sit in an office most of the day but are regularly out on the factory floor, ready to roll up their sleeves and pitch in where needed. In fact, they’re so visible, they won’t need others to tell them about a problem because they’re interacting with their frontline employees regularly enough to see it themselves.
Even keeled, calm, projecting a quiet confidence during stressful times—strong company leaders project and embody these traits. When problems arise, workers need leadership that isn’t easily rattled.
Approachability does not come naturally for many people, so your HR team should develop seminars and other practical tools to help both workers and leaders learn how to better manage even the most stress-filled situations to improve employee performance.
- Being Proactive
Employee experience will have taught frontline leaders how to spot trouble coming at a distance. They can then create a plan for managing those issues in advance, before they become problems. They will also proactively build solid relationships with their frontline workers so when trouble does arise, they already have a base of trust and mutual respect to work from.
Frontline Leaders are Effective Communicators
It can’t be stated enough: Communication skills are an absolute must for a frontline leader to be successful. That’s because leaders need to be able to regularly speak with team members both as a group and one-on-one. While some people have a natural ability to communicate, for many it’s a skill that needs to be learned and developed. HR teams would do well to develop—if they haven’t already—a few good courses on public speaking and those should be mandatory training for all frontline managers.
97% of employees in a workplace study said that consistent, daily communication has a direct effect on the efficiency of their work. (CMSWire 4) The importance in communication is always the message. But if that message isn’t communicated well, it’s as if it was never communicated at all. That’s why it’s important to be aware of:
Communication is not only about the right words, but the right delivery. To perfect that delivery, the old maxim should be followed: “Practice makes perfect.”
When practicing, remember
- Keep a positive, genial attitude
- Make eye contact with your audience
- Be friendly and genuine
- Don’t talk at people, talk to them
Having Strong Projection
Good communicators can project their voices loud and clear. When speaking to groups, talk to the back of the room or the furthest person in the crowd. And diction is also crucial. As simple as it sounds, pronouncing your words clearly does wonders for your ability to communicate. (This is a particularly valuable skill on the factory floor!)
Good communicators make their message clear and easy to understand. Know what you need to say and say it.
- Stay succinct
- Keep on point
- Don’t ramble
Frontline Leaders Empower Others
Another quality to actively build in frontline leaders is a genuine desire to empower others. Good leaders don’t try to micromanage their teams but instead, they build solid relationships by encouraging authority, accountability, and responsibility. In short, good leaders give ownership, not orders.
Good leaders also actively seek the advice and opinions of their team when working out problems. It is important to let your team know you value their input and trust them to make good decisions. When employees feel trusted by leadership, they are more likely to trust their leaders in return and be more actively engaged in their jobs. Trust enables strong employee performance.
Turn Frontline Workers into Your Biggest Competitive Advantage
The real goal of developing frontline leaders is building engagement. Engaged leaders know how to connect their teams with the tasks at hand. They know how to integrate frontline workers into both the practical details of their jobs and the larger company culture. And an engaged workforce is more productive, passionate and ultimately profitable.
How Paycor Can Help
Engagement will transform your frontline workers into leaders who will quickly become your biggest competitive advantage.
Paycor has tools that can assist you in building solid frontline leaders. You can utilize Career Management to map out and develop meaningful career paths for your team while the Learning Management tools can help you create powerful, personalized training programs to develop the skills your workforce needs to succeed.