Time Tracking: The Key to Maintaining Productivity Despite Labor Shortages

Young men work on an assembly line

Workforce management solutions that focus on activity tracking, help identify contractor concerns, highlight potential compliance concerns and expand attendance recording can provide important insight and help improve productivity.

Reliable productivity remains the key to manufacturing revenue, but manufacturers are currently faced with the ongoing risk of disruption in their sector. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) points to a 500,000-position staffing shortage that could reach over 2 million in the next 10 years.

Although technology offers the potential for improved productivity, it comes with significant capital expenses. Organizations looking to enhance output are often better served by examining their operating expenses and ensuring that their current staff and contractors are making the most of their time.

Timing the Task

What is staff doing? How long does it take them? Does this conform to industry-standard data?

Before businesses can make inroads to improved productivity, they need to understand what employees are doing and how long it's taking them to do it, so they can discern what improvements should be made. Compared to other industries, manufacturing organizations must place higher priority on connecting time spent and activities performed to assess current output against expected benchmarks.

In practice, this requires time-tracking solutions that allow staff and subcontractors to self-report their activities, even if they're idle. This, combined with production line monitoring tools and output data, can enable businesses to determine how many units they're capable of producing in a day, how many people it takes to produce those units and how that production compares to necessary throughput. If production doesn't meet expectations, in-house and contractor time tracking tied to specific activities (rather than attendance alone) can help businesses target key areas of improvement.

This is critical as automated shop-floor technologies become more commonplace and skilled staff becomes harder to find. Otherwise, employees may end up idle at key points in the chain of production, and it may be invisible if output is unaffected. By empowering employees to self-report, manufacturers can identify previously unknown activity shortfalls, and find hidden capacity in the workforce.

Defining Demand Curves

There are also demand fluctuations that you must solve for on occasion. Whether it is seasonal production levels, new customer orders or other drivers impacting production and labor, having a strategy that balances employee staffing levels with the use of contractors can be the most cost effective. Perhaps the solution is to use contractors to maintain existing machinery, or to manufacture critical parts and oversee key processes that underpin your operations. Maintenance contractors may, for instance, experience sudden upticks in demand, while expectations around process and discrete manufacturing partners tend to be more predictable.

Here, organizations need time-tracking solutions that extend beyond immediate employees to help manage productivity across third-party providers. Straightforward contractor time tracking can help identify bottlenecks that may exist outside your organization and could indicate a need for activity alteration in-house — or the replacement of key contractors — to ensure production targets are met.

Accounting for Compliance

Compliance is critical to manufacturing. From fatigue management to repetitive motion injuries and OSHA requirements, organizations can face significant penalties if they don't comply with current legislation. As the Department of Labor notes, common pain points include failure to account for all paid-time activities (such as oiling, greasing, cleaning or installing machines at the start or end of the workday) and incomplete record keeping that lacks data about hours worked, wages and break times.

Given the increasing pace of production lines due to newly automated processes and the varying demands of manufacturing operations, it can be easy for organizations using standard timekeeping methods to overlook necessary breaks or incorrectly compensate employees. Overcoming compliance challenges requires integrated scheduling tools that automatically notify managers if shifts exceed the maximum number of days or hours worked. Such tools can help ensure that enough staff are on-site to cover all breaks and lunch periods.

And due to the highly competitive nature of manufacturing workforce recruitment, businesses also need solutions that empower staff on the line to request schedule changes or make shift swaps directly from their mobile devices. This can increase workplace satisfaction and allow requests to be relayed in real time instead of leaving staff waiting until they're done for the day to speak with immediate supervisors, which can cause scheduling havoc if multiple requests arrive at once.

Governing Attendance

Attendance matters in manufacturing. If staff are out sick or away on vacation, coverage is critical to ensuring uninterrupted production. But what happens if staff are consistently arriving at work without proper personal protective equipment (PPE)? Even a 15-minute drive home and back is 15 minutes lost on the schedule, and if they've lost essential PPE pieces, businesses could lose employees for days at a time.

As a result, it's important to record lost time due to PPE problems and ensure that these issues are entered as attendance criteria and tied to daily schedules. Combined with existing activity and time-to-complete data, advanced scheduling solutions can notify managers if extra employees will be required to make up productivity losses. In addition, entering attendance violations — from late starts to missing gear — can help bolster the case if staff are terminated for due cause. Records of days absent without approval or hours lost due to lack of preparation can provide a necessary digital paper trail.

Cause and Effect

For manufacturing organizations, knowledge of effects isn't enough. The increasingly complex nature of supply chains and production line processes — plus the intricacies of employee and contractor time tracking and the changing labor markets — all mean that, while effects like decreased output are common, the causes and solutions are not so simple.

Fortunately, workforce management solutions that focus on activity tracking, help you respond to demand fluctuation, highlight potential compliance concerns and expand attendance recording can provide critical causal insight and empower direct action that improves productivity.

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