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Flexible Work in Manufacturing: The Future

Manufacturers' vision for the future of work began evolving even before the COVID-19 pandemic. New data-enabled ways of working and higher productivity expectations were introduced by digitalisation as a defining feature for roles and processes.

Advances in digital capabilities and automation were accelerated during the pandemic under the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In addition to resurgent demand, the experience of 2020/21 heightened another key dynamic for recovery and reshaping workforce policies. 

As manufacturers navigated their way through the immediate post-pandemic work environment, talent management has now become the defining challenge. To ensure business continuity, alternative, technology-enabled working models were forged in virtual work patterns thus creating new expectations.

Prior to the forced remote / hybrid work opportunities, departments and functions learned how to sustain their productivity during the pandemic. But as economic conditions improved, and more employees returned to onsite work questions arose around the traditional facility-based work. One of the decisions manufacturing leaders will have to make in this next phase is how to incorporate the different working models – a hybrid, in-person, remote work models or a four-day week

There is still uncertainty around what flexibility really means for companies and employees, and what long-term models may be the most workable. Organisations will continue to assess and monitor different work patterns across departments, roles, businesses, and industries.  

Whilst leaders continue to consider important questions for the future of a flexible manufacturing workforce. These include possible labour market advantages for early adopters, the impact of such arrangements on company culture, with any losses of talent, should these well-intentioned decisions require future correction. 

Talent shortages in the manufacturing sector add urgency for employers to continue to define new, more flexible working models for salaried and factory employees alike. 

To set a new vision and tone that resonates with its employees, manufacturing businesses have placed an emphasis on listening to and representing the employee’s voice in corporate policy. Manufacturing leaders acknowledge the stakes for retaining talent and because of this, development continues. 

Recognising that the stakes for talent retention and development have never been higher and with this knowledge comes a clear divide between high and low-performing companies in the post-pandemic period.

Research via the Manufacturing Alliance Foundation and others has questioned executives and human resource professionals to understand organisational, strategic, and departmental prioritisation within the world of manufacturing. This included the lessons learnt via working productively virtually, engaging customers digitally and the agility needed in supply chain management.

What Employees Require in Order to Work Comfortably Moving Forward

With the pandemic behind us, employers are now faced with numerous challenges including inflation, rising energy costs, continued supply chain disruption, and low unemployment in the western world. Many have already reshaped their business models for a hybrid work culture. This has involved a desire to change the ways in which businesses are organised based on consensus. There are now 5 key areas for the future of work:

1. Hybrid work is now the prevailing workforce model for salaried workers in the industry

 80% of businesses expect to offer or already offer flexible remote working along with an in-person model. Research suggests that employees will continue to work practices they started during the pandemic and based on these demands, flexible work is one decision that leaders have been charting for the future of work. 

This has increased considerably since the pandemic when such workforce models did not really exist. For those working in factories, expectations for flexible work in the case of alternating shift patterns and schedules are now also on the rise. 

2. Development, retention, and talent acquisition are the key challenges for employers 

Leaders identify that sourcing talent has become one of the most crucial factors, among others, which shapes the future of work for the foreseeable period. 

Retention challenges were also considered as well as digital skills gaps, adaptability, collaboration, communication, and overall skills for leadership which are fundamental for change management. Therefore, despite being inherently more limiting for hybrid options, an increasing share of businesses that offer alternative, flexible models of factory work will likely acquire and retain the in-demand talent with greater success.

3. Companies are placing more focus on employees developing hybrid and other models

Most businesses are continuing to develop a collective approach rather than a top-down to defining these working patterns / models. Companies are often listening to employees' needs and using their voices to shape policies. This approach has increased dramatically from prior to the pandemic. This can also be seen with the four day week trials.

4. The cultural resistance to change at work is still the main barrier to future work 

Cultural resistance in the workplace accounted for most organisational challenges. This signals a continued need for workforce adaptability as well as change management. 

A strong and defined company culture is imperative for employee retention, engagement, and competitive advantage. Protecting the best of culture, not only adapting it, is central to the success of future models of working, keeping in mind the volatility of the current jobs market.

5. Work priorities now reflect the predicted shifts of focus in the longer-term

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) along with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have received renewed attention during and after the pandemic period. This has brought about expectations for integration with the future of work.

The manufacturing jobs market is experiencing one of its greatest shifts in work patterns, and in such volatile conditions, employers are trying to do their utmost to hire and retain quality employees whilst continuing to develop methods and policies around the working environment. 

Redline has over four decades of knowledge-led recruitment experience, we enable high technology and electronics companies to build world-class teams. For more information on how we can help, contact us 01582 450054 or email for a quick chat with our team.



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