Manager onboards younger manufacturing worker by showing him the machinery.

By Alexandra Brunjes

Manager onboards manufacturing worker by showing him the machinery.

The manufacturing industry has faced numerous challenges in recent years, but one of the most pressing (and enduring) is a persistent skills gap. As the Baby Boomer generation nears retirement, manufacturing companies stand to lose approximately 25% of their workforce. Combine this with the more than 1.4 million pandemic-related manufacturing job losses and an increasing need for industry modernization, and all signs point toward needing to recruit, train, and retain new manufacturing talent. Optimizing the onboarding process is an opportunity for the industry to address these challenges and prepare for the future.

Let’s discuss the importance of manufacturing onboarding, particularly as it relates to the skills gap and labor shortage, and the components of effective programs that get new workers up to speed and integrated into the organizational culture.

Why Is Onboarding Important in Manufacturing?

Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute’s 2021 report estimates that the manufacturing skills gap will leave 2.1 million jobs unfilled by 2030. As the industry faces a wave of hiring, onboarding is an opportunity to provide new workers with critical skills, educate them about the industry, and lay the groundwork for upskilling and reskilling. In the following sections, we’ll briefly look at how effective onboarding can address the three big drivers behind this skills gap: demographic shifts associated with the retirement of experienced, highly skilled workers; ongoing technological advances; and pandemic-related hiring changes.

Addresses Demographics and Builds Skills

Baby boomers are retiring from manufacturing jobs more quickly than they are being replaced, so companies will soon have a large population of new workers, many of whom won’t have significant prior experience. This demographics-related “brain and skills” drain is nothing new, but it is a growing concern for manufacturers.

Effective onboarding can help kickstart knowledge acquisition and skill development for new employees. This strengthens the skills pipeline and accelerates the process of new hires to competency.

Introduces New Technologies & Improves Critical Thinking

As the manufacturing industry adapts to technological advances, manufacturing jobs increasingly require new skills – skills that new hires don’t always have. It may have been the case in the distant past that workers only needed a strong work ethic and basic understanding of manufacturing processes, but those days are fast disappearing.

At today’s increasingly-automated manufacturing sites, workers often need to have basic computer skills (such as Word, Excel, and email); be able to interface with Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and troubleshoot software concerns; and work alongside robots and other aspects of advanced manufacturing. Likewise, there’s a much greater emphasis on problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, communication, and even lifelong learning/learn-to-learn skills that keep an ever-advancing manufacturing skill set sharp.

Onboarding is an opportunity to educate employees about these advances and lay the groundwork for technological proficiency, and with BizLibrary’s Core Industrial Skills Library, available from our producer partner Vector Solutions, manufacturing workers can gain pertinent skills with engaging, self-paced online training courses such as “Databases, Spreadsheets, and Word Processing” and “Networks: Fiber Optic Systems.”

Response to COVID-19’s Influence On Manufacturing

As if the demographic and technological challenges weren’t enough, the COVID-19 pandemic made manufacturing onboarding more critical – and more challenging. Since COVID-19 has displaced many workers from their former careers, leaving them to begin new careers with little, if any, of the necessary job skills. Manufacturing companies have been faced with the challenge of preparing these newly hired workers, many from entirely different industries, for their new roles.

Additionally, since COVID outbreaks can impact entire components of a manufacturer’s workforce, it’s increasingly important to cross-train workers during onboarding so they can take over different roles when employees are quarantined due to COVID exposure or infection. This ongoing risk has increased the need for more comprehensive onboarding and more flexible employees with wider skill sets.

While we hope that the light at the end of the COVID tunnel is just around the bend, it’s not yet clear when this problem will go away – and regardless, organizations should strengthen their onboarding programs so they’re more resilient when the next “black swan” event affects their labor force.

What Are the Advantages of Successful Manufacturing Onboarding?

Onboarding sets the stage for a new hire’s career at a company. When done effectively, it improves employee engagement, job preparedness, and productivity – all of which are critical for addressing the manufacturing skills gap. Effective onboarding also improves new employee retention, which leads to major time and cost savings.

Developing the Employee-Organization Relationship

Onboarding helps new hires to prepare for their new role, meet their coworkers, and begin integrating into the company. Thoughtful, effective onboarding immediately makes employees feel valued and supported, which increases engagement and job satisfaction. Successful onboarding has also been shown to increase productivity by 70%.

This is particularly important for industries that employ lone workers as it helps these employees feel more connected to their employer.

Correcting Common Misconceptions about Manufacturing

Many people, particularly those in younger generations, have incorrect or outdated perceptions of the manufacturing industry (ex: manufacturing jobs are dirty, non-skilled, non-rewarding, low-paying, and lead to “dead-end” careers).

Onboarding is an opportunity to address these misconceptions and to ensure that employees know about the wealth of career opportunities that manufacturing offers, particularly as new technologies are introduced. It’s a time to introduce new employees to the realities of modern manufacturing jobs: clean, rewarding, mentally challenging, high-paying roles with vast opportunities for career advancement.

Clearly outlining career paths helps new hires imagine a future in the industry and empowers them to work towards goals that move their careers forward.

Reducing Absenteeism & Increasing Retention

One of the big challenges that manufacturers face is employees who are not engaged at work, which leads to absenteeism, poor performance, and retention problems. In fact, the industry has an employee absenteeism and turnover rate of 37%. For perspective, the average national turnover rate is 3.6%.

Effective onboarding can improve retention by helping new hires integrate into their roles and learn about manufacturing career paths – studies have shown onboarding can improve employee retention by 82%. Additionally, employees who experience effective onboarding are 30 times more likely to have high job satisfaction and 48 times more likely to feel supported by their organization, both of which contribute to retention.

Onboarding is especially important as the manufacturing industry works to attract and retain large numbers of Millennials and Gen Z employees, as these demographics increasingly search for roles with employer-provided training.

Introducing Organizational Values

You can also use your new employee onboarding to introduce new hires to your organization’s unique goals, mission, values, and culture. This is often done, in part, by including a discussion or video with the organization’s chief executive that welcomes newly hired employees and communicates a shared understanding of what the company is all about – what you do, how and why you do it, and how you relate with people both within and outside of the organization.

Kickstarting Skill Development

Of course, a core component of onboarding training is preparing new hires to help the organization reach its goals, which requires highly skilled workers. A well-designed onboarding program can be the jump-start new hires need to transition from eager novices to competent entry-level workers and, with time, to expertise. Additionally, onboarding training promotes well-rounded skill development and helps avoid knowledge gaps related to the simple chance of an individual employee’s on-the-job experiences.

Consider using the evidence-based training method known as deliberate practice to further accelerate workers’ skill development and level of expertise.

If you are considering online skills-building options, BizLibrary’s Manufacturing Library now offers five specialty libraries designed to train industrial workers on crucial manufacturing skills, from Core Industrial Skills to Commercial Facilities Maintenance.

Improving Workplace Safety

Effective onboarding can also improve safety and health at your worksite. Employees are three times more likely to have a lost-time injury during their first month of work, but proper onboarding can mitigate this risk. By providing early, effective guidance about health and safety best practices, manufacturing companies can prevent health and safety incidents, workplace accidents, property damage, and even near-misses. This can help limit injury-associated worker absenteeism and promote regulation compliance, workforce productivity, employee satisfaction, and morale.

Training Delivery Methods to Use in New Employee Onboarding

Manufacturing onboarding experiences can differ depending on the type of company and the job responsibilities of new hires, but typical programs include a mix of classroom learning, online training, hands-on exercises, and additional training delivery methods, such as videos, mentoring programs, or even virtual reality and augmented reality. This blended learning approach, or combination of different training methods, provides more effective learning outcomes than any one training method alone. Let’s briefly break down in-person and online training.

In-Person Training

In-person manufacturing onboarding should concentrate on two broad areas of focus: 1) company and role information, and 2) training and skills development.

Company and role information. During onboarding, provide employees a relevant overview of your company and how their role fits into it. This should include discussing pertinent workplace policies, key points of contact, and clear guidelines about expectations for workers. This is also a good time to provide new hires with career path insights and to describe potential role progression.

Onboarding is also an opportunity to answer questions and establish a communication feedback loop so that employees know how to ask questions and report concerns. One popular way to do this is by assigning workplace “buddies” or mentors who can provide advice and guidance. Another is by deploying an anonymous reporting system.

Training and skills development. In-person training and skills development is typically a mix of classroom instruction and hands-on learning.

Classroom instruction, which can occur virtually, is well-suited to widely sharing information such as company processes and procedures; company policies, missions, and values; and workplace hazards, safety controls, emergency signals, and emergency reporting procedures. This information can be communicated using presentations, live safety demonstrations, instructional videos, and more. It’s helpful to incorporate interactive activities into classroom instruction to keep workers engaged and encourage teamwork and collaboration.

Hands-on learning, the second component of in-person skills training, can include job shadowing, workplace walkthroughs, and introductions to materials and job tasks. For optimal worker engagement and memory, hands-on learning and classroom instruction should go hand-in-hand so that workers can immediately contextualize and apply their new knowledge.

Online Training

Online courses are an increasingly popular component of job training, including onboarding and new hire training, because they provide easily accessible, self-paced content that suits workers’ schedules and learning preferences. Although online courses should not replace hands-on training, they can be as effective or even more effective than classroom training.

When considering online training options for your workforce, ensure that content is developed by industry experts. Other helpful features include instructional design, including short course length, content chunking, casual and conversational spoken audio, engaging visuals, interactive course components, and pre- and post-course knowledge assessments. These features facilitate worker engagement, retention, and skill development, and transfer to on-the-job performance.

But not investing in training can lead to diminished productivity and quality and increase safety issues and concerns. Getting leadership buy-in is difficult but can be made easier by proving the ROI of training programs.

How BizLibrary Can Help You Build Effective Onboarding Programs

BizLibrary’s Manufacturing Library has all the tools you need for the online portion of your onboarding program – this online content library is designed to train industrial workers on crucial manufacturing skills.

With content designed by workplace training experts, including technical subject matter experts and instructional designers, the courses in our library help manufacturing companies build more skilled, efficient, and productive workforces – both during onboarding and beyond.

Improve Your Manufacturing Onboarding Program Today

As you develop your onboarding curriculum, remember that it isn’t a one-time, short-term event, but rather an important first step in each employee’s manufacturing career, and one that lays the groundwork for future learning. When designing your onboarding program, think about intermittent training that builds upon itself or even repeats itself (incorporating spaced learning for improved retention) over at least 90 days and most likely throughout an entire year.

Manufacturing onboarding is an opportunity to address challenges head-on – make the most of it.

For more tips about onboarding, including a breakdown of what to do during each step of the process, check out our Onboarding Checklist.

About Alexandra Brunjes

Alexandra Brunjes is a Content Specialist at Vector Solutions, a provider of industry-focused solutions that connect information and technology. Alexandra has a B.S. in Neurobiology from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. with minors in Creative Writing and French. She is a published journalist and experienced health and science writer. Her expertise includes risk intelligence, healthcare and neuroscience, and technology.