Survey: Frontline Leaders Say Skills Shortage Impacting Shift Outcomes

We saw the direct and tangible effects of the manufacturing skills gap in a recent Covalent survey of frontline leaders. Respondents came from a diverse set of manufacturing operation types, ranging from job-shop cell leaders in aerospace to assembly supervisors in automotive.

The verdict? Not having the right skill composition on a given shift has a major impact on operations. Production drops. Costs rise. Safety concerns develop.

The manufacturing industry forms our country’s industrial base, and these workers are the lifeblood of our economy. Frontline leaders, however, often struggle to assemble the right people with the skills and expertise they need for every shift. We call this localized problem a (skill) coverage gap.

This trend may only intensify. According to a report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute (MI), 2.1 million manufacturing jobs may remain vacant by 2030. These workforce shortages may result in a trillion dollar GDP loss for the American economy.

Survey Results

We asked the men and women on the ground about their experience managing workforce coverage. This is what we found.

First off, 82% reported frequently not having the right skill coverage levels. A majority of frontline leaders recognize that their business often loses money because they struggle to consistently get enough qualified workers to meet targets.

Additionally, 91% felt significant or very significant negative impacts of shift-level skill gaps. This shows that skills gaps manifest on a localized, shift-to-shift basis in addition to creating challenges for overall workforce management.

When asked about the impact of skill coverage gaps, a majority cited lowered production output as the primary consequence. Respondents also spoke to the necessity of having expert operators allocate time away from their jobs to train new hires or cross train other personnel to meet operational needs.

Another main takeaway is that frontline leaders are too often forced to scramble to find coverage at the last minute. Nearly 87% of respondents say a coverage gap was likely to occur right before a shift begins, giving them little or no time to find a viable solution.

That’s why we weren’t surprised to learn that 65% of respondents say they have to resort to calling someone from off-area to fill coverage gaps. This compounds problems even further by increasing OT costs, ergonomic risks and the potential for worker attrition.

Though we can’t speak to every frontline leader’s experience, these are the main conclusions that we were able to draw from the data:

How to fill coverage gaps and reduce their impact

In the best case scenario, frontline leaders can identify a gap well in advance. If there’s plenty of time before the shift starts, they can formulate an informed response and allocate resources more appropriately. This could mean adjusting work assignments, scheduling an operator who is off-premise in advance, or even requesting additional resources to train off-shift over a longer period of time. 

The problem, however, is that each of these actions needs to happen by the time the shift starts. Otherwise, the coverage gap can produce a domino effect that can lead to even more issues down the line. 

For instance, frontline leaders may be forced to run short-handed where they can, or they may have to be on the job themselves instead of performing their ordinary management and supervision duties. This can lead to slower assembly line throughput, mistakes that result in scrap or rework, or even safety concerns.

We also see managers forced to scramble at the last minute to move current crews into locations that best suit the situation. In some cases, they may have to backfill with an alternate if available, or they may even conduct on-the-job crash course training with the most capable person available. While these may serve as stop-gap measures, they’re never going to be as effective as proper workforce allocation and management.

Covalent can help fill the manufacturing coverage gaps

Covalent’s purpose-built workforce intelligence software gives frontline leaders continuous resource visibility so that they can view and fill gaps well in advance of a shift’s beginning. A single, unified dashboard shows who has the skills to be staffed on a particular job and what proficiencies they have.

This coverage analysis enables supervisors to determine coverage levels on a given shift in any given area, and provides leaders with the skill information for pre-shift allocations. That way, instead of struggling to fit resource planning and coverage adjustments into the small window that makes up a shift change, they can fill coverage gaps well ahead of time with informed workforce allocation.

Covalent’s impact goes beyond optimizing day-to-day operations. By providing leaders with comprehensive data and easily digestible analysis, Covalent helps manufacturers to identify macro trends, spot opportunities for cross-training, and dynamically adjust to current and future demand. The end result is better workforce planning, a gradual closing of the overall skills gap, and fewer problems down the road.

Check out how Covalent fills coverage gaps by taking a free self-guided tour.

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