The pipeline for talent is drying up because of the need to interject new talent safely into the manufacturing industry. But how do you go about doing that without jeopardizing your current workforce?
Most industries are able to develop this talent remotely. Unfortunately, industries like manufacturing, skilled trades, and hard sciences are occupations where internships cannot easily go remote. Some employers, such as Owens Corning have let interns who are rising juniors defer internships to next summer and offered rising seniors some virtual programming this summer.(1)
So what are some options to meet current needs and ensure the talent is available as we transition out of our current pandemic state? Think creatively and this just might open the door for more opportunities to hire a more diverse population, through virtual work. Thus, eliminating the connection factor and adding new talent to the diverse demographics that we’re seeing moving into 2020 and beyond. You may not be able to bring that person in on the line, but what about allowing them to learn other parts of the manufacturing process virtually, i.e. the backend of manufacturing or administrative functions.
Rather than making this a devastating event for college students and the industry, how about doing things a little differently, i.e. micro-internships. These are short-term based assignments that can be done virtually and still provide the college student with practical experience. Even better, what about working with colleges and universities to set-up remote training sites specific to the industry, where students can learn, while still developing the skill sets needed to be successful in manufacturing.
What is even more of a challenge is making sure that you’re creating experiences where the student interns, feel that they are a part of the team and not just stuck in their parents’ basement or attic. The Ford Corporation is leading the charge by emailing their interns each week to help prepare them for summer, redesigning projects to fit remote work, sending out backpacks of swag, and creating office hours to give managers help.
It’s been said that “You can’t build jets working from home” and you sure cannot develop talent without giving them some training and experiences. Here are some suggestions by Olgetree Deakins that might help you in making the working environment more accessible to interns:
- Making changes to implement social distancing, such as:
- educating employees on keeping minimum distances and refraining from physical contact
- ceasing the use of large-group, “town hall” meetings
- replicating meetings multiple times to have smaller groups attend, and physically spacing people out in the meeting rooms
- eliminating routine shift hand-off meetings that are not critical, or limiting these to just particular persons as critically needed
- staggering shift start/stop times, break times, and lunchtimes to minimize congregations at the time clocks and in locker rooms and break areas
- creating new shifts (nights or weekends) to help separate the workforce and give employees scheduling options that may help them manage new family obligations with kids home from school
- zoning the factory and prohibiting employees from wandering into zones where they do not need to be to perform their jobs
- Staggering crews so that an outbreak can perhaps be better isolated such that, after cleaning, the factory can run with unaffected crews
- Example: Monday through Wednesday crews; Thursday through Saturday crews; cleanings to be performed on Sundays
- Identifying key personnel without whom the factory cannot operate (e.g., boiler operators, wastewater treatment engineers, lead electricians or maintenance mechanics, etc.)
- Creating schedules, procedures, and any other steps to isolate these personnel from each other and the rest of the workforce to try to minimize exposures
- Beefing up cross-training, if that can be done with acceptable distancing, to prepare for more absences
- Increasing the frequency and depth of sanitizing efforts, and letting employees see them happen to reinforce sanitizing behaviors and engender confidence in the safety of the workplace. Examples might include:
- having break rooms cleaned repeatedly all day (perhaps after each lunch group)
- providing sanitary wipes throughout the facility and training employees on using them constantly to clean high-touch surfaces(2)
As Olgetree Deakins stated, there is no standard solution to operating a manufacturing operation during a pandemic. Therefore, there is no standard solution for internships during a pandemic. Hopefully, through creative thinking and some resourcefulness on the part of management, more ideas can be developed to keep the talent pipeline open and provide college and university students with opportunities to join the manufacturing industry.
- San Antonio Express-News, 6/14/20, Business Section, Students hit as internships dwindle in the pandemic wake
- OgleTree, 3/19/20, Tips for Manufacturers on Continuing Production During the Coronavirus Pandemic