As manufacturers continue digitizing their daily operations, one area in which delays in the transition are often apparent is in onboarding, training and performance maintenance.
And amid a nationwide manufacturing labor crunch, outdated employee onboarding practices can have serious consequences when it comes to recruitment and retention.
Analog practices risks turning off potential new employees and rising turnover rates, said Muilenburg Manufacturing Consulting founder Michael Muilenburg.
“In manufacturing, we don’t have a hiring problem. We have a retention problem,” said Muilenburg. “I was just at a mid-size manufacturing company and I asked the president, ‘Have you ever had anybody leave on lunch break and not come back?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, about one a month.’”
Muilenburg says the first several hours on a job, which may feel the most jarring to a new recruit, are crucial. Digital tools can help ease this transition to a new work environment and set a foundation for the regular integration of digital practices.
For companies unsure of how to integrate digital tools into their training programs, Muilenburg recommends to “start small.” That can mean something as practical as equipping new employees with iPads featuring digitized work instructions, or setting up screens with charts and graphs that can signal worker progress on shop floors in real-time.
As soon as companies do away with analog methods such as binders full of training materials, plant managers often find that digitizing their onboarding processes can free up a lot of energy and reduce training time, according to Tulip Interfaces Industry Practice Lead Gilad Langer.
Equipping a new employee with a tablet or other mobile instructions can help guide them step-by-step through an operation, Langer said. For instance, employees can “see that they’re taking the right screw and putting it in [the right place],” because the illustrated instructions are easy to consult.
If the tablet is equipped with a camera, employers can even program it to detect whether the instructions are being followed correctly. That’s especially helpful in environments where teams are “cycling through a lot of manpower,” and it can be difficult to offer accurate, attentive training to every single new recruit, Langer added.
Introducing tablets into a training program can minimize the ramp-up time it takes to bring new employees up to full speed on their responsibilities, Langer said. And in many cases, using digital tools that people already use in their personal lives — like iPads and smartphones — helps employees hit the ground running starting day one.
And while the delivery of work instructions might be the core appeal of having digital devices on the floor, Langer noted that they can even be used to collect data on the efficacy of the training or on the products being manufactured.
Once they’ve institutionalized digital devices in their training, managers can then feel free to add more things on the digitization continuum, including robotics, digital twins and fully automated factories, Muilenburg said.
However, Langer cautioned that it could be a while before more high-tech integrations become mainstream throughout an operation.
“I can’t even imagine going to an airport without my mobile phone. I don’t even know how I would check in,” Langer said. But in the manufacturing industry, that kind of digitization is late in coming, he says.
“We’re at iPhone 1.”