Evaluating Task Level Inventory

by Laurie Harbour, Harbour Results, Inc.

It is understood clearly by manufacturers that finding skilled labor – or even good manufacturing labor – is challenging at best in today’s market. Years of telling young people that manufacturing was not the place to work has set a misperception about these jobs in the US. Although companies will continue to look for this much needed labor, many of the best companies have begun to focus internally to mitigate risk and reduce the number of skilled people needed in their organizations.

These companies have started to evaluate in detail the tasks performed by their key managers and throughout their workforce. This means examining the daily tasks that are performed by these individuals and assigning the employee to one of four key categories.

Master level. These are the tasks that require the highest level of skill, and employees in this category are commonly referred to as journeymen. For example, the task could require troubleshooting a breakdown on a mold press or a mold itself before ultimately performing the repair. This may require years of experience and knowledge.

Advance skill. This category usually requires greater than five years of experience and training. These employees can perform multiple tasks throughout a molding facility, but may struggle to troubleshoot the more complex issues.

Intermediate skill. This level usually requires 2-5 years experience. Throughout the facility, these employees can perform routine maintenance or initial problem-solving; but, when more difficult issues arise, they rely on the Intermediate or Master level employees for the solution.

Entry level. This may be an apprentice or an employee who is just starting out running a piece of equipment in the facility. This level understands the basic needs of the facility, and can perform other tasks such as moving molds into place with the crane and preparing auxiliary equipment for more difficult tasks, such as changeovers.

As companies have completed these task inventories, they have found that Master level workers are only doing Master level tasks an average of 20 percent of their day. As a result, companies are beginning to reassign roles and responsibilities across these levels. Lower-skilled labor now is being used for tasks that require less experience and skill, allowing those Master level people to remain focused 80 percent of their day on the tasks that require the highest level of skill and that they are paid higher wages to perform.

The overall result for the companies that have completed this analysis and modified roles and responsibilities accordingly has been a significant increase in throughput. They are finding that more activity is being accomplished; for example, changeovers are occurring faster and more frequently, mold machines have higher uptime and mold maintenance is processing more through the shop.

Additionally, these companies are seeing lower scrap rates and rework cost due to a higher degree of standardization. But most significantly, these companies are doing more with the same number of people and finding that they need fewer Master level employees. This allows them to focus on finding Entry level people, while developing solid training plans to move Entry level employees to the Master level over a number of years.

The industry still needs more solid people who want to go into manufacturing and find a career in a great field, but evaluating task level inventories for different roles is one way that the best companies continue to separate themselves from the pack.

Laurie Harbour is president and CEO of Harbour Results, Inc. Combining operational and financial advisory expertise with industry analysis and thought leadership, Harbour Results delivers results that impact the bottom line. The company specializes in manufacturing, production operations and asset intensive industries, as well as a number of manufacturing processes, including stamping, tooling, precision machining and plastics. For more information, visit www.harbourresults.com.