Article: Mastering workforce dynamics in the manufacturing sector – Lessons and opportunities

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Mastering workforce dynamics in the manufacturing sector – Lessons and opportunities

Manufacturing firms had to relook at their talent approach with a focus on balancing productivity with empathy. Here's what leading experts had to say.
Mastering workforce dynamics in the manufacturing sector – Lessons and opportunities


Throughout the past year, companies across sectors have had to redefine people priorities. Manufacturing companies too had undertaken rapid digital transformation, established smart processes and streamlined the employee lifecycle.

The exercise of re-architecting work did not just stop at the office, it extended to blue collared employees too.

To capture some of the key lessons that talent leaders learned over the past year, and how they viewed the evolution of workforce dynamics in the future, People Matters in partnership with PeopleStrong brought together a virtual panel of leading voices from the manufacturing sector.  It brought together leading industry voices including Ashish Anand, Chief Human Resources Officer, SAR Group of Companies, Ajay Agarwal, Vice President-Operations & KAT-B2B Sales, Nilkamal Limited, Abhishek Arora, Vice President-HR, Carlsberg India. The panel was moderated by Prakash Rao, Chief Operating Officer – SaaS, PeopleStrong

With the pandemic, two fears became rampant – life and livelihood,” said Ashish Anand, CHRO, SAR Group addressing a live audience on the topic.  Health and safety concerns were combined with a feeling of helplessness. And manufacturing firms had to relook at their talent approach with a focus on balancing productivity with empathy.

Some major people initiatives driven during the pandemic included:

  • Communicate with empathy:

At a moment of crisis, employees needed to be heard. At SAR Group, the focus was on empathetic messaging to create a sense of belonging, The question in front of business leaders was “how can we contribute to make the lives of everyone better, even without any business?” says Anand.

Abhishek Arora, VP-HR, Carlsberg India noted that the company “assured employees that they were sailing together in a moment of crisis.” The company also focused on engaging with the families of employees. The company regularly engaged with family members to push their safety and wellness agenda. 

“At Nilkamal, ‘connect’ programs were established for both – employees and contractual workers.”, said Ajay Agarwal, VP-Operations & B2B Sales, Nilkamal Ltd. 

  • Driving performance and productivity:

The approach to performance needed support. Carlsberg launched a program around enabling productivity, enrichment through skilling and energizing employees. As a result, the entire paradigm of productivity evolved, and everyone came together to contribute to growth.

“The way people came together and how the organization responded, it was either a ‘win together’, or ‘lose together’ outcome. The pandemic brought us closer as an industry and as a nation and people contributed actively,” said Arora.

  • Reskill and upskill for the future:

Old myths and socio-economic class beliefs such as blue-collar workers being low on technical knowledge were challenged. In fact, they worked at the forefront of production. At SAR Group, the entire factory workers were reskilled, and production increased by 40% vis-à-vis last year. At Nilkamal, putting together a business continuity plan was a driver for employee upskilling.

“People started to understand the impact of their work on previous and further steps. More awareness led to more productivity on the shop floor”, said Ajay Agarwal, VP-Operations & KAT-B2B Sales, Nilkamal Ltd.  

  • Increased focus on employee safety, health and wellbeing

The pandemic made everyone health-conscious. “Safety took on a participative approach rather than the initial data-dashboard approach,” Anand said.

According to Ajay from Nilkamal, “ The focus on safety led to less absenteeism, and less unplanned leaves. Employees understood the importance and were focusing on right food supplements and immunity. This attitude is reflecting in the workplace decorum- people are conscious of wanting to complete work on time, leading to more focus and concentration.”

  • Digitize the flow of information

Traditionally, in the manufacturing sector, the focus has been on material automation such as six sigma, variability reduction etc., There was less emphasis on digitizing this information flow.  “With the pandemic, every efficiency-machine data started getting recorded,” Ajay said.

“Firstly, there is robotization i.e., the real shop-floor automation, and secondly, there is digitization related to workflow. Cost-benefit analysis needed to be done i.e., cost of robotization versus cost of manual labour. Also, we need to involve the local unit managers,” Anand from SAR group noted.

  • New needs and new practices

One of the silver linings was that the pandemic forced organizations and people to rethink and revamp their workplace practices.

For example, at Nilkamal, employees developed a new product in just two weeks. By identifying a new furniture need i.e., supplying thousands of beds to Covid-19 centres. Such innovation was driven by people coming together and breaking siloes.

The Way Ahead

The question now is how to institutionalize the gains of 2020, both tangibles and intangibles?

Leaders need to mull on how to move from ‘monitored productivity’ to ‘engaged productivity’ i.e., productivity owned by employees. India has a huge employable population with their own aspirations, it is imperative to reskill people. Manufacturing industries need to leverage industry-specific HR-Tech solutions in-order to combat the challenges of ever-changing work dynamics. To learn about challenges and execution ready tips for HR-Tech Implementation in the manufacturing industry, download “Buyer’s guide to HRMS: Manufacturing Edition”.

“Start building an ecosystem for partnering in the PPP model, through skill academies across the nation,” said Anand.

Ajay Agarwal believes that producing at cost-effective rates, with quality-efficiency focus is critical. “Whether skill development or digitization, we need to focus and start taking them seriously to compete at global levels.”

Above all, transformation can be driven with a mindset change.  Abhishek Arora points out, “There is a mindset issue to tackle – contract workers are treated differently. Hence a root-level change in the education policy, with more vocation-oriented education can break these beliefs.”



Watch the complete conversation, click here

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Topics: Talent Management, Corporate Wellness Programs, Skilling

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