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As a manager in a business-to-business manufacturing environment, your goal is to ensure the accuracy and proficiency of your systems and employees. Other organizations depend on your work, and if you fall behind, the chain reaction could be catastrophic. As a manager, you need to find the top talent that you can mold and train for long-term success, and it starts from the day you put out a job description. Here are some important guidelines to follow for finding the best employees, ensuring maximum productivity, and retaining top talent for years to come.

Finding The Best Employees

The first step to a seamless production environment is finding the right people for the job. In addition to searching for those who have experience in what you do today, it’s wise to consider how tech and systems are evolving and to hire for the skills of the future.

One key skill is data analysis. This function is essential for checking on your processes to verify they’re running efficiently and that you’re making the most of your talent. You’ll also want to search for candidates who are familiar with automation. Machines are becoming more advanced, and many can perform repetitive tasks without human involvement. Good automation could bring your factory to the next level.

While reviewing applications, search for candidates who have experience in data analysis and automation. Pay special attention to people who have worked in the B2B manufacturing space. Since information on an application is not always obvious, ask good questions during the interview so you know you’re making the right choice when you hire.

Another way to find top talent is through your job listings. Create a strong job description that tells potential candidates exactly what you’re looking for and the requirements they’ll need to succeed. If you’re having trouble finding candidates, use social media and consider paid advertising. Your best option is to ask current employees you trust to refer others so you know you’re getting the best and brightest.

Staying Productive With Training And Analytics

Once you find the best employees, you need to have a system in place that ensures they can work as efficiently as possible.

Proper Training

One of the tactics that can create a smooth operation and mitigate potential supply chain issues is to put your staff through proper training. Teach employees the ins and outs of the work they’ll be completing and allow them to provide feedback that could prove valuable. As time goes on, offer annual training to reinforce current processes and teach new strategies.

How To Use Analytics

When you get things up and running, put your accountants and data analytics professionals to work so they can verify that you’re making the most of your staff and equipment. They can also ensure that you’re using your money wisely and that you can set aside enough for future staffing and development.

When reviewing your equipment and production costs, decide whether you’ll look at actual or standard costing. Many manufacturers use standard costing, which is when you plug in predetermined costs of materials, labor, and overhead using historical data. This method is useful when costs are generally predictable.

However, if you’re adding new processes and employees, you may want to go with actual costing, where you track costs as they occur. This latter method may take longer but you’ll have more precision with your numbers to make the best decisions.

You can review these numbers on a quarterly basis to determine if there have been any major shifts by viewing them with a comprehensive dashboard. Use it to track the figures by employee, machine, waste time, and more.

While you’re running analytics and measuring productivity, you may find that you can embrace automation and replace many processes that are currently done by hand. Many data entry tasks, like inventory management and order processing, can be done through automation. If employees are spending a lot of time on menial, repetitive tasks, let the machines go to work so your staff can focus on bigger things.

Retaining Top Talent

Talent management isn’t only about finding the best people. It’s also about keeping them happy and content so you can retain their services for as long as possible. A big part of a good retention strategy is providing a career path and opportunities for development. If an employee knows that there could be a promising future at your business, they’re more likely to stay and do their best work.

Recognition and monetary perks will also keep the team excited, so implement an employee incentive program to help retain talent. Incentives can include monetary bonuses, gift cards, time off, or other benefits. When you create a program and present it to the team, ensure that you set clear criteria so employees understand what they need to do to get an incentive. When the program is active, check periodically to verify that your systems are actually tracking team progress. Your team is likely to work harder and share their successes when they know there are perks at stake.

Finally, your talent is more likely to stick around when they know they’re cared for and listened to every day. Management should reach out to their teams regularly to check in and provide guidance. You should also be willing to accept feedback via surveys and anonymous messaging and take action to correct any concerns.

Conclusion

Since B2B manufacturing is an essential part of many thriving industries, it’s vital that you have the best people on the job. Take the time to train your people, monitor your processes, and set your operation up for success.

*This article is written by Ainsley Lawrence. View more of Ainsley’s articles here.

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If you suspect your employees are burned out, you’re probably onto something. The 2023-2024 Aflac WorkForces Report revealed almost 60% of U.S. workers across all industries are experiencing some level of burnout. That’s a significant jump from 2021 when the number was 52%. And, it’s coming close to the quicksand trap of burnout we saw during the height of the pandemic in 2020… which, as we all know, led to the Great Resignation. Many industries still haven’t recovered from that unprecedented mass exodus of workers.

Here are a few more fast facts about workplace fatigue from the Aflac report:

Admittedly, those numbers seem pretty grim. It’s especially concerning when it comes to employee engagement and retention, which are problems bedeviling many industries right now, including manufacturing, mining, food and beverage and others.

The result of employee burnout and workplace fatigue looks like a laundry list of a manager’s worst day: lagging production, employees just phoning it in, growing malaise and discontent among workers. It can lead to errors, too – potentially serious ones. It all adds up to bad news for your bottom line.

That’s why it’s important for managers and higher ups to take a look at their company — the people on the shop floor, the workers in the mines, the longtime employees on the assembly line, even the white collars in the office, wherever your employees get the job done — through the lens of employee burnout.

What causes employee burnout and what can you do about it?

Causes of employee burnout

When tackling a challenge, it’s always best to look for the root cause. For employee burnout, we’re talking about:

But, it’s not just those types of pressures that contribute to burnout. There’s also:

What executives can do about workplace burnout

There are many fixes for this challenging situation and some of them can be implemented fairly easily. Here are some ways we’ve found to help our clients deal with workplace burnout and reenergize their employees.

Investigate automation… This doesn’t mean investing millions in AI to transform your shop into a bot-dominated sci-fi thriller. It means taking a look at the kinds of repetitive tasks that might be better done by a machine. Automation reduces the need for manual labor, but it also reduces human error and increases consistency and efficiency. Payment and accounting, order processing, and inventory management are some areas to consider automating.

…and train employees for higher-skilled jobs. Yes, some tasks can be done faster and more efficiently by the bots. But the people who previously held those jobs are still valuable to your company. Upskilling those employees has more benefits than letting them go. Training is a magic bullet to increasing job satisfaction and employee retention. It gives people a clear view into a path forward, a sense that you value their contributions and are committed to their growth. Training also has another magic power – it increases overall, on-the-job efficiency.

Give workers more autonomy and voice. At USC Consulting Group, we are famous for encouraging top-level executives to get more familiar with the people who are on the front lines. We can all but guarantee that spending a few hours with the seasoned employees doing those jobs will give you a new perspective. They know how the job can and should get done, and are a wealth of information about ways to improve it. Listening to their ideas and better yet, implementing them, pays off in countless ways. Not only do you get a more efficient and productive line, your employees feel respected, listened to and valued. Now that’s a win-win.

Strive for operational excellence. Operational excellence is your organization running on all cylinders, eliminating bottlenecks, reducing waste and ramping up productivity. You have the right people in the right jobs and are using data and key metrics to “manage by the numbers.” How does this combat employee burnout? Just think about how great it feels at work when everything goes right. When you and your employees are clicking. When you don’t just meet but exceed expectations. That great feeling is called job satisfaction and it’s a powerful antidote for burnout.

Need help handling employee burnout? At USC Consulting Group, we’re here to help companies become more efficient, effective and profitable through process improvements — including implementing strategies to increase employee satisfaction and retention. Give us a call today to find out more.

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How’s your supply chain running these days? If you’re like most manufacturers, you’re still experiencing challenges. Big challenges. The pandemic threw the worldwide supply chain into chaos and it hasn’t yet recovered, but the truth is, there have always been supply chain issues bedeviling the industry. The pandemic just exacerbated what already had the potential to go wrong and uncovered new problems lurking just below the surface.

Just-in-time strategies, which were (and continue to be) popular methods of having just the right amount of inventory on hand at any given time, left manufacturers vulnerable to supply chain disruptions. The increasing complexity of global supply chains didn’t help the situation, nor did the pervasive lack of visibility into supply chains themselves.

What are manufacturers facing this year in terms of their supply chain? Let’s take a look at these issues, and examine some ways USC can help.

Manufacturers supply chain challenges for 2024

Materials shortages. Global instability, the lingering effects of the pandemic and other factors are leading to shortages of raw materials and components. Production delays, increased costs and unhappy customers are the result. And speaking of costs…

Rising freight costs. As fuel prices ride the same roller coaster we’re all seeing at the gas pump, and labor shortages and ongoing congestion at ports collide, it means costs to get those components and materials are going up, eating into your profits. And speaking of labor shortages…

Labor shortages. This problem is ongoing, and we have to say, it’s one thing that wasn’t caused by the pandemic. Manufacturing workers are aging and retiring, and there isn’t a large pipeline of younger people with the skills to replace them. It means reduced output and productivity, dwindling motivation and drive, and the loss of institutional knowledge.

DRIP. It stands for data rich, information poor. When you’re talking about the supply chain, it means you need to use data to its fullest. Outdated inventory systems won’t cut it.

Tactics that can help

Diversifying supply chains. Having too many eggs in one basket has proven costly when that basket falls apart. Reliance on any one supplier, especially if that supplier is overseas, is becoming yesterday’s strategy that is just not working in today’s market.

Reshoring. Supply chain disruption, ongoing global instability, higher costs (including higher labor costs in China), increased lead times and more hassles are leading companies to reconsider foreign sources. Many are already doing it. Yahoo Finance reported in June 2023 that 80% of manufacturers are now considering or acting on reshoring some or all of their production. A couple of quick examples: General Motors invested $7 billion in production facilities in Michigan to not just manufacture electric vehicles but the batteries that power them. Intel invested $20 billion in a new semiconductor manufacturing plant in Ohio, and is investing $30 billion for a similar facility in Arizona. Some manufacturers are “nearshoring,” bringing production closer to home, from China to Mexico, say. Not only will this reduce lead times, improve quality control and leave companies less vulnerable to global unrest, it will also create jobs here at home.

SIOP. We laud this tactic often because it really does improve efficiency, but in the age of supply chain disruption, it’s crucial. Sales, Inventory and Operations Planning (SIOP) is a collaborative process that aligns all departments. It involves using inventory as a strategic tool, demand management and supply planning, giving you the ability to capture, analyze, integrate and interpret data to give you a strategic advantage.

Learn more about SIOP in our free eBook, Sales, Inventory and Operations Planning: It’s About Time.

Solid training. The labor shortage isn’t going away, and we’re finding that many manufacturers are investing in training, ensuring that everyone is doing the job the same way, with rock-solid operating procedures. It’s a powerful way to keep institutional knowledge within your facilities, instead of losing it when people retire.

At USC Consulting Group, we have over 55 years of experience helping manufacturers ramp up their efficiency, production and operations. It’s especially crucial to be firing on all cylinders during challenging times… and we’re in them, right now. Give us a call and let’s talk about how we can help.

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Manufacturers today deal with greater demands from consumers than ever before. It is vital for manufacturers to deliver on time, every time. Fail to do so and they will lose customers, revenue, and credibility.

Therefore, streamlining operations is essential. This doesn’t mean manufacturers need to invest in expensive equipment or high-performance technology. Often, what needs to change is how people work and the strategies businesses can employ to support this.

Let’s get started.

Why is it so Important to Streamline Manufacturing Operations?

Streamlining manufacturing processes ultimately maximizes a company’s profits and helps them stay competitive. Here are just some of the reasons why it’s so important:

6 Ways Manufacturers Can Streamline Operations

Streamlining operations can feel like an overwhelming task at first. However, with the right strategies in place, it doesn’t take long to improve efficiency and boost productivity. Here are six tips to get you started:

1. Identify Issues in the Production Line

Every manufacturing operation has a bottleneck. This is a stage in the manufacturing process where things slow down or perhaps even stop. Bottlenecks are a nuisance and can lead to severe delays, time and labor inefficiencies, and increased costs. Identifying bottlenecks is essential for optimizing the production line and helping everything run more efficiently.

There are a few ways you can identify issues in your production line. For instance, you should look for signs of the following:

2. Support Faster Payment Processing

As a business owner, you know the importance of faster payment processing. Whether you’re paying your suppliers or your customers are buying your products, faster payment processing keeps everything running smoothly.

The simpler your payment process is, the better so spend time to find the best card reader for your business operation. Streamlining both the supplier and customer experience by offering online payments is a game-changer.

Online payments make it easier for customers to purchase from you, removing delays in the payment process and reducing cash flow issues. This helps streamline operations and keep everything running smoothly.

3. Adopt Lean Manufacturing Methodology

Lean manufacturing methodology focuses on reducing costs by limiting waste and improving manufacturing efficiency. Lean manufacturing is a great methodology to apply to your business if you’re looking to streamline operations.

For lean manufacturing methodology to be effective, all types of waste in the manufacturing process must be identified and then removed. There are four types of waste you should focus on eliminating as a priority. These include:

  1. Unnecessary transportation of materials such as equipment, tools, and employees can be avoided simply by optimizing factory layouts.
  2. Excess inventory. Whether it’s products, materials, or equipment, having excess inventory is a waste as it increases storage costs and slows down processes.
  3. Waiting time: time-wasting is common in manufacturing operations, either due to idle workers or idle machines. It typically occurs when workers can’t work because they’re waiting on materials or equipment. Machines can be idle when waiting on maintenance or replacement. Optimizing manufacturing processes eliminates this time wasting and boosts operational efficiency.
  4. Defective products are a waste that must be reduced as much as possible. For every defective product, you have an unhappy customer. This means returns are made and apologies are required, which increases costs and wastes time.

Reducing unnecessary waste goes a long way towards reducing lead times, boosting customer satisfaction, and improving operational efficiency. It is a process of continuous improvement and manufacturers will find that regular adjustments need to be made as customer demand fluctuates. However, adopting the lean manufacturing approach will go a long way towards streamlining your operations now and in the future.

4. Embrace Automation

Automation (utilizing production management software or robots to operate machinery) reduces the need for manual labor. It avoids human error and allows for consistency across all aspects of your manufacturing process.

Many areas within manufacturing can benefit from automation, most notably: payment and accounting processes, order processing, marketing efforts, and inventory management (to name a few!)

According to Industrial Machinery Digest, “One obvious byproduct of automation is increased productivity […] The market should see more businesses turning to industrial automation on various scales. When this happens, the market will be able to see not only more innovative products produced on a larger and quicker scale, but the quality increasing with production speed.”

Adopting automation as part of your manufacturing process will help streamline your operations like nothing else. It will allow your organization to keep up with customer demands and grow as your business grows.

5. Reduce Downtime (where possible)

As mentioned earlier in this article, many things can cause your processes to bottleneck. One of these is downtime.

Downtime is a significant cause of inefficiency in the manufacturing process. Therefore, finding ways to reduce it can improve efficiency. A few common causes of downtime are:

To improve on these it is important to monitor your production processes closely. This will let you identify and address any issues quickly and efficiently.

6. Train Employees Well

For employees to do a good job and support a streamlined manufacturing process, they need to know what they’re doing and proper training supports this. Proper employee training is a surefire way to improve efficiency, boost company morale, and support business success.

Establishing an effective team through professional training lets employees add real value to your business by preparing them for higher responsibilities, increasing their productivity, strengthening any weaknesses, improving workplace safety, and boosting production overall.

If you want to streamline your manufacturing operations, it is essential that you properly train your employees. This will go a long way towards supporting your business success.

In Summary

We hope the tips shared in this article have highlighted the importance of optimizing your manufacturing processes and how to achieve this! We know that streamlining your operations can feel a little daunting at first (we’ve all been there!) But with the right strategies we know you can transform your manufacturing process and take your business to new heights.

*This article is written by Sophie Bishop. Sophie is an experienced construction writer with a passion for sharing insights and her experience within the health and safety sector. Sophie aims to spread awareness through her writing around issues to do with healthcare, wellbeing and sustainability within the industry and is looking to connect with an engaged audience. Contact Sophie via her website: https://sophiebishop.uk/.

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With Halloween just around the corner, we started thinking about nightmares that can occur to manufacturers. Is something bedeviling your productivity leading to more tricks than treats? Is there a ghost in the machine? Here are some of the most common “monsters” that haunt manufacturing managers, and ways to banish them from your operation for good.

Things that go bump in the night (or day). Every manufacturing plant on the planet has experienced an “unexpected shutdown” that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Something broke, wore out, went awry or otherwise seized up, causing production to grind to a halt. These unexpected dark periods, whether they last an hour, a day or longer until the problem is resolved, are extremely costly in lost productivity and revenue, delays in shipments and deliveries, and more.

Banish it! Regular shutdowns for maintenance need to be an essential part of your yearly calendar. Yes, these planned maintenance periods still mean downtime, but the point is, you build them into your schedule and plan accordingly for shift scheduling, delivery and other variables.

Zombies on the line. Unmotivated teams can bedevil companies in any industry. From the Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting, employee morale has taken a tumble since the pandemic. People are just going through the motions out there. Couple that with some spooky stats: According to a Gallup survey, only 36% of U.S. employees are engaged at work and 74% say they are actively looking for new jobs. Low morale costs companies in just about every way possible — increased absenteeism, dips in quality and efficiency, and rock-bottom motivation levels among them.

Banish it! There are many spells you can cast to break that zombie curse. Invest in training and development for your employees. Hold listening sessions to get ideas for improvements on the job. Walk the floor and talk to your people regularly, something management just doesn’t do enough. Build a promotion pipeline from your front lines. All of these will help increase employee engagement and get their heads back in the game.

Process poltergeists. Are you constantly putting out fires that seem to combust without warning? Human errors, unforeseen backups, supply chain bottlenecks, inventory imbalances (too much or too little), glitches on the line. It can feel like you have a firefighting mentality, and it’s counterproductive to, well, productivity. When you’re in a constant state of troubleshooting, you’re not efficient at doing the job today or laying the groundwork for tomorrow.

Banish it! A solid Management Operating System, which is a structured approach to your operations, will help stop trouble before it starts. This allows you to make adjustments and otherwise pivot so your operations aren’t adversely impacted. The best management operating systems focus on processes, systems, roles and structures to map out how the job gets done, and by whom. To learn about MOS in more detail, watch our short (and dare we say fun) video, Stop the Firefighting Mentality.

“20% of each dollar is wasted in manufacturing due to inefficient processes each year”

Wasting disease. Waste can hide on your shop floor like a monster under the bed. It hides where you least expect it, like time, energy, employee talent, productivity and more. Here’s a figure that will keep you up at night: 20% of each dollar is wasted in manufacturing due to inefficient processes each year, adding up to $8 trillion globally.

Banish it! Waste is such an enormous problem in manufacturing, Toyota (or Henry Ford, depending on who you ask) created a process methodology about it. Lean is all about identifying and eliminating waste in manufacturing operations. The classic Seven Deadly Wastes (we think it’s eight, but let’s not split hairs) include overproduction, waiting, transporting, processing, inventory, motion and defects. (People is our eighth.) Lean is the process to minimize or eliminate those, boosting your bottom line. Read more about it by downloading our eBook, “Lean Six Sigma: Do You Really Know These Methodologies?”

The invisible man (or woman). The loss of institutional knowledge happens when your best workers vanish (retire or quit) and take all their hard-earned, on-the-job know-how with them. It’s the tips, tricks and tactics that aren’t in the employee manual. The loss of this irreplaceable knowledge is a growing issue for manufacturing, because the workforce is aging, and there is a lack of skilled younger workers to take their place.

Banish it! Capture that knowledge before your seasoned pros retire or otherwise leave the workforce. Create mentorship programs pairing older workers with younger ones, ask those older employees to participate in roundtable sessions that can focus on “what’s not in the manual” knowledge, and solicit their advice on how to do the job better.

While this is a lighthearted look at manufacturing problems, these issues are no joke. They can seriously hamper your efficiency, productivity and ultimately, your bottom line. At USC Consulting Group, we’re the experts in helping companies reach operational excellence. If you’d like to learn more, please give us a call.

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It’s a problem plaguing companies across most, if not all, industries: the loss of institutional knowledge when a seasoned vet retires. The person you’ve had on the job for decades gets their gold watch, has a retirement party and walks out of your door for the last time… and takes everything they’ve learned on the job with them. That knowledge is gold to companies, and the loss of it can be devastating. According to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the lack of knowledge transfer when an experienced worker retires can cost individual companies $47 million per year “due to time wasted, missed opportunities, frustration and delayed projects.”

Manufacturing is especially hard hit by this, because its workforce is aging and younger people aren’t coming in to fill in those ranks. IndustryWeek reports that 54% of U.S. manufacturers are finding it difficult to attract skilled workers to get the job done. That’s up from 38% before the pandemic. But, it’s not just a manufacturing issue. By 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 or older. That’s a lot of great employees looking at retirement.

All of that said, the loss of institutional knowledge isn’t just an age issue. It’s also a generational turnover rate issue. Compared to Boomers, younger workers are on the job for a nanosecond before moving on. The average millennial tenure on the job is 2.9 years. For Gen Z, it’s even less: 2.3 years. The “Great Resignation” following the pandemic didn’t help matters, when people who could leave the workforce, did. They still are. In February 2023, 4 million people left their jobs. The one-two punch of older workers retiring and high turnover rate among younger workers has created a knowledge gap crisis.

The solution? Companies need to have rock-solid foundational training that covers key processes in their operations, written on stone tablets if necessary. It requires a shift in a company’s learning curve, and many simply don’t know where to start. That’s where USC comes in.

How USC helps companies shift the learning curve

Those are the stats and facts about the loss of institutional knowledge. We’ve seen it play out on the shop floor in many of the companies we partner with. Companies that didn’t have simple, well-documented processes lost capability, capacity and quality as their experienced workforce left. It resulted in companies playing catch-up in terms of time, money and employee turnover.

This doesn’t just affect the shop floor. Junior and mid-level managers lost mentors and leaders who might have been there to show them the ropes. We’ve seen frustrated, disengaged, underdeveloped employees leave companies as quickly as they’re hired.

It has resulted in USC developing a closed loop Training Management process that documents and maintains standardized operator work instructions, quickly ramps and levels employee knowledge, encourages employee engagement, and promotes leadership development.

The objectives? Here’s what we’re looking to accomplish:

Deliverables include all of the above, along with a detailed timeline for standard operating procedures development and training.

Our approach is designed to accelerate and deliver sustainable change while engaging your people and bringing focus, clarity and transparency to organizational effectiveness.

It includes a Rapid Assessment Analytics Phase and an Implementation Phase. Here’s how it works:

Learn and Collaborate

With leadership, we explore key issues and opportunities in order to articulate the vision of the project.

Engage

In this stage, we find the gaps and align with leadership on goals.

Solution Design

With key players, we develop a roadmap and a detailed execution plan. We determine the changes we need to implement and do triage to knock out quick wins to move the project along.

Execute and Sustain

This is where the rubber meets the road. We mobilize stakeholders and implement the solution. It requires ongoing training and coaching, weekly reviews, and a study of ROI and benefits.

As with every project we undertake, our training management approach does NOT include us swooping in and making pronouncements of how things should be. Instead, we engage with your people to create a blueprint that’s unique to your company.

Training Management Project Approach

We aim to drive significant value on two fronts, the “just do it” phase to drive immediate value, and the “change the game” phase to drive sustainable outcomes and long-term value. It includes

Yes, a lot of this can sound like “consultant-speak.” What it boils down to, in plain English, is keeping your operations humming along on all cylinders even if every experienced employee on your line suddenly walks out of the door. It’s about identifying your core processes and procedures — what needs to happen to keep the place running. Documenting those procedures, and then creating and providing solid training to employees and higher ups. Sometimes that can involve getting to the heart of what IS NOT in any training manual, those invaluable nuggets of institutional knowledge your people have developed over years on the job.

To learn more about how you can shift your learning curve to retain your employees, give us a call today.

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If your business is experiencing challenges with processes and operations, it isn’t as efficient as it should be, or if you are striving to increase throughput while cutting costs, it may be time to bring in an operations management consultant.

However, before you sign on the dotted line, you should know the advantages and drawbacks to hiring operations management consultants to help. Let’s take a behind-the-scenes look at operations consulting, how it can benefit your business and some pitfalls we can help you avoid.

Pros and cons of operations management consultants

Operations consulting is what USC Consulting Group has specialized in for more than half a century, and with that, we have been exposed to various situations around the world. But it’s not always easy bringing in people from the outside to tackle the challenges you’re having internally. Here are some pros and cons to consider.

Pro: Process improvement expertise. Your company is in the business of whatever it is you do. Consultants are in the business of process improvements. It’s all we do. We are experts in techniques like Lean Six Sigma (LSS) — there aren’t many companies out there with many in-house black belts in this discipline. LSS is focused on eliminating waste and improving throughput, and it takes years to become an expert in it. External consultants like USC goes beyond LSS to focus on both your people and processes.

Con: Lack of accountability. Some external consultants “fix it and forget it.” They swoop in, offer recommendations for change, hand you a file stuffed full of info about what they found and then swoop out, on to the next project. This is a serious drawback. (Note: USC does NOT work this way)

Pro: Industry expertise. At USC Consulting Group, we have 55 years of experience under our belts. We’ve seen it all. And while every situation and challenge is unique, we are coming at those challenges with decades of experience as our solid foundation for success.

Con: Learning curve. Consultants lack knowledge of in-house procedures and it takes a couple of weeks to get up to speed with a company’s specific processes. USC performs Feasibility Studies to build the business case for the project and at the same time get acquainted with the client’s facilities and operations. We start by listening, hastening that learning curve.

Pro: Training and improvement for staff. If you’re working with the right outside consultant, that is. At USC, we aren’t just about fixing challenges for companies. We coach and teach our clients on how to sustain those changes, instead of just fixing and forgetting. In other words, we provide the training and know-how for you to take it from there. The result is the upskilling of your employees as part of the bargain. That’s an added bonus not all consultants provide.

Con: Lack of sustainability. This is another potential downside of hiring the wrong consultant. Sure, it’s great to highlight challenges and offer recommendations for change, but those changes don’t stick if the consultant leaves it to you to implement them. That’s why we work with your team to implement the process improvement changes and train your people along the way so they can sustain the success long after we’ve left.

Pro: Unbiased third-party advisors. Consultants are not part of a company’s internal politics. We are above the fray. This comes in handy when recommending process changes, because who takes direction from whom can be tricky in companies. We’ve seen it time and time again: recommendations for change go down easier when they come from outside the organization, rather than from within it.

Con: Don’t know the unwritten or unspoken rules. Yes, we may be the aforementioned unbiased third-party advisors, and that’s a big advantage. But it also can be a stumbling block because we don’t know the unwritten rules in your organization. These are cultural norms, do’s and don’ts, that aren’t in any company handbook. Depending on the company, this may be good or bad.

Pro: Cost. Bringing in an outside consultant is actually less expensive than doing the project in-house. If you use an internal process improvement team made up of current employees from different departments, you’re not only paying the cost of the project itself, but the cost of lost productivity when team members are away from their usual duties. If you have a dedicated internal process improvement team, we’re talking about costs involved with salaries, benefits, perks and the whole nine yards. On top of all of that, you are risking the costs associated with failure because you don’t have experienced pros on the project. At USC, there are no net annualized costs due to the results and benefits achieved within the first year that continue for many years after.

Con: Cost. Yes, there are both pros and cons to cost. With consultants, you’ll have a large upfront investment. There’s just no getting around that. But, in the immortal words of the author Kurt Vonnegut, you get what you pay for. Hiring a consulting firm, you’re paying for process improvement expertise. At USC, we have 55+ years of it under our belts. One important thing to note: The breakeven point, when you’re reducing operating costs and improving productivity and throughput, this offsets the cost of the project and is usually realized within six months or sooner.

Pro: Fresh eyes to overcome challenges. You know what they say about forests and trees. Sometimes, internal people are simply too close to the problem to see their way out of it. We can look at the big picture and shine a light on processes and gaps that may be weighing you down.

Pro: Horsepower. USC Consulting Group empowers employees with the tools and techniques that drive optimal performance, adding “horsepower” to your teams. We can augment your team’s efforts and achieve results quicker.

So what does this all mean? Yes, there are drawbacks to be aware of when bringing in operations management consultants. However, when done right, the benefits they bring to your team and process improvement projects completely outshine those concerns.

USC Consulting Group stands ready to help you. Operations consulting is what we do. We know we can come in and get the job done, helping our clients achieve greater efficiency and throughput, improved processes and ultimately a healthier bottom line. We’ll be happy to talk with you about how we can augment your operations.

Already have an internal improvement team? Read more about both options in our article: “Operations Management Consultants vs. Internal Improvement Teams: What’s the Difference?”

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Knowledge is power, right? The problem? Most working professionals learn the majority of what they will ever know about their chosen profession between the ages of 18-22. They’re kids still, at that age, not even legally allowed to rent a car.

Sure, they’ll learn more on the job. Arguably, they’ll learn everything that really matters at work. But those pedagogical skills. The theory and tech that goes into professional life — that’s typically learned in the more formal classroom setting.

Without upskilling, your staff can wind up in professional limbo. Fortunately, there are many ways to continue developing professionally, even after school is out.

In this article, we take a look at how upskilling your employees can help create a stronger organization.

What is Upskilling?

As the name suggests, upskilling is simply the process of teaching your staff new skills. They learn more about how things work around your organization and perhaps gain the capacity to fulfill other responsibilities somewhere along the line. Kind of like a professional cross-fit program.

Instead of an inordinate amount of leg days, you have team members learning about new technologies or embracing business concepts that might otherwise be outside their job description.

Usually, upskilling is framed as being optional — professional development opportunities that, while not compulsory, may improve the employee’s overall standing within the organization somewhere down the line.

Not everyone will be interested in upskilling, but those who are will learn valuable skills.

Identifying the Go-getters

One of the most obvious benefits of upskilling your employees is that it helps to identify the go-getters. With this, you find out quickly who is interested in growing professionally, and who is more or less coasting on the job. When it comes time to decide who winds up taking on leadership roles, your upskilled staff will often be a great first place to look.

Filling Gaps

Upskilled professionals may also be better equipped to fill gaps within your organization. This is a problem that business leaders all over the world are still dealing with. They have jobs to fill, but they can’t quite find the people willing or qualified to take them on.

You definitely don’t want to rely on your best employees to pick up all the slack, but you can use them here and there to handle additional responsibilities when the moment requires it. Just make sure you reward them accordingly. Short-staffed businesses often experience very high levels of turnover because the work becomes more stressful for the people who remain.

You certainly don’t want to drive away you’re A-team, so call in the favors sparingly and make sure that your incentives are on point.

Avoid Efficiency Lags

As staff members age they inevitably fall out of touch with the most modern business practices. How could they not? Things change constantly, both in terms of what is considered best practices, and based on things like what technology is being used now.

If you’re twenty years out of college, you might not have your finger on the pulse of the latest industry trends. Upskilling is a great way to stay refreshed on what is going on in your chosen profession.

A Downside to Upskilling?

There are downsides and risks associated with upskilling your employees. Perhaps the most straightforward of these is that it takes time, and, by extension, money to teach people new things. Depending on your current resources, that might not be in the cards.

There’s also just the risk of alienating your staff. People work hard. They don’t really like being asked to work harder. You can edge around that particular issue by making professional development optional, but even then you run a bit of a risk. Yeah, you don’t have to do it but…you have to do it, right?
Read the room. There are times to upskill, and times to leave things be. As a decision-maker, it’s your responsibility to take an analytic view of the situation and go from there.

It’s also important to keep in mind that upskilling, or any other form of professional development is not a one-time thing. Technology will continue to change. Strategies will change along with it, and it will be time to refresh your staff’s knowledge all over again.

Learning and progress are important elements of growth, but remember that slow and steady can win the race here. You want to encourage your staff and help them grow. Not bombard them with new responsibilities.

*This article is written by Andrew Deen. Andrew has been a consultant for startups in almost every industry from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He implements lean methodology and is currently writing a book about scaling up business. You can follow him on Twitter @AndrewDeen14.

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Slowly but surely, consumers are returning to the marketplace in full force after a number of tumultuous years. According to Industry Week, consumer spending is up 20% from this time last year. While that number is great for a manufacturer’s balance sheet, there are still challenges in the industry that are keeping CEOs up at night. Here is a look at a number of concerns of top executives — and ways you can tackle them head-on to get a good night’s sleep.

Problem: Retiring workforce

Ah, retirement. The day valued, longtime employees get their gold watches and leave the plant for the last time. It’s great for the employee, not so much for their CEO. That’s because as retirees head out to enjoy their golden years, they’re taking all of the institutional knowledge they’ve learned over many years on the job with them. The median worker age as of 2018 was 44.1 years old — over two years older than workers in other industries. And that was in 2018, the most recent stat. Those folks are 48 now. But you don’t need stats to tell you that. A walk around your shop floor (or a talk with HR) will give you the lowdown on how many of your employees are nearing retirement.

Solution: Capture that knowledge

It pays to be proactive in most situations and this is one of them. Capture that institutional knowledge before your seasoned vets walk out the door. Create mentorships between older and younger workers. Film a roundtable discussion featuring your best older workers talking about the ins and outs they’ve learned over the years. Ask your seasoned vets to be part of updating your manuals. At USC Consulting Group, when we go into a manufacturing business to improve efficiencies, we understand that the people on your front lines are your greatest resource and our greatest ally in that effort.

Problem: Skills gap

The other side of the institutional knowledge coin is the lack of skilled workers to replace them. You’ve heard about the skills gap, certainly, and this is it. There is a dearth of qualified people out there. Or enough people. Manufacturers in the U.S. are expected to see 2 million unfilled jobs by 2030. It paints a grim picture for companies that aren’t planning or prepared for the future of their workforce.

Solution: Training

If you’re not finding skilled people, one solution is to create robust training programs that will get them the skills they need. It’s an investment, yes. But a worthy one.

Another tactic: Partner with a local trade school or community college to target upcoming grads.

Problem: Employee engagement (or lack thereof)

Are your employees happy? Do they feel valued and appreciated? If you don’t know, now’s the time to find out. To add to the problem of an aging workforce retiring and taking their skills with them, the new generation of warehouse and manufacturing workers are less and less inclined to begin and continue careers in the industry. The Great Resignation is a countrywide juggernaut that has prompted many of the younger workers to resign from and reject positions where they don’t feel adequately fulfilled or see a future career. The manufacturing industry is not immune.

The younger generation of workers needs validation and appreciation to stick around. Only 36% of U.S. employees are engaged at work and 74% are actively looking for a new job at any given time with their current employer.

Solution: Start walking the floor

Walking the floor is an oft-overlooked yet crucial way for managers and executives to engage with their team, foster relationships and directly affect employee retention in a positive way.

Getting out onto the shop floor shows employees that their employer cares about them and their career. For the employer, this strategy fosters retention while also affording an opportunity to discover any standout employees or ways to improve day-to-day operations. This directly combats an aging workforce by keeping new employees around long enough to become skilled themselves.

Another tactic: Invest in career pathing for your employees. It starts with promoting from within and giving people a roadmap for how to get there. It’s a powerful tool. In fact, 94% of employees said they would stay at a job that invested in their career development, according to a survey on LinkedIn.

Problem: Worldwide supply chain disruptions

While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down, the manufacturing problems it caused are still very prevalent in the industry today. Bottlenecks in every level of the supply chain and overcrowded shipping ports have become the norm over the past few years — with little signs of slowing.

According to Industry Week, a 400% increase in shipping costs from China and a 45% increase in ocean freight wait times — both increases relative to last year — is a trend that could continue for 6 to 12 months, if not longer.

Solution: Reshoring

Reshoring has long been suggested as idealistic and beneficial for the country, yet unrealistic. That is, until now.

The dramatic increase in outsourcing costs and interminable shipping wait times has resulted in many Fortune-500 companies — General Motors, Toyota and Samsung, to name a few — making considerable investments in the improvement, expansion and new developments of their manufacturing plants in the U.S.

Reshoring is a way for U.S. manufacturers to invest in the country and claim valuable subsidies, while also shielding themselves from any potential global supply chain issues.

Problem: Inventory management

Dialing in proper order quantities, reorder triggers and keeping an accurate and adequate lead time have long been hot buttons for manufacturers. The aforementioned bottlenecks and disruptions have not helped.

The issue compounds when all departments have a different viewpoint on the situation: operations, sales, finance and business executives can all have contrasting requirements and best practices when it comes to an inventory management philosophy. Any divergence in departmental expectations mixed with a lack of communication can spell disaster for any manufacturer.

Solution: SIOP

SIOP expands on S&OP — the business management process that involves sales forecast reports and planning for demand and supply — by adding a crucial component: Inventory.

SIOP is a powerful tool that helps your company get departments in sync, ensures that everyone is on the same page and realistic about the process, helps you manage and roll with changes, and measures performance.

“A key to SIOP is to emphasize inventory as a strategic tool to help offset variation in either demand or production issues,” explains David Shouldice, Senior Vice President and Managing Director at USC Consulting Group. “One lever of control in the SIOP process is to make inventory harder working as a strategic tool.”

SIOP helps you wrangle your inventory management, achieve the optimal balance between not enough and too much, and settle back into Lean manufacturing principles that can eliminate waste and help ramp up your efficiency.

These aren’t the only challenges keeping CEOs up at night. At USC Consulting Group, we have more than 50 years of experience helping manufacturers find opportunities for greater efficiency and productivity. Call us today to talk about how we can help you get a good night’s sleep.

Contact USC Consulting Group

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