Planning and Scheduling / Workforce Development / Skills Gap

Planning to address labor gaps

Trouble finding the skills your plant needs? Doc Palmer says make better use of the skills your plant has.

By Doc Palmer, PE, CMRP, Richard Palmer and Associates

With the economy booming, and even before the recent manufacturing acceleration, plants have been experiencing trouble hiring skilled labor. Planning and scheduling maintenance work greatly helps alleviate this trouble—but not in the way one might think.

Some persons think that by planning maintenance work, they can hire less-skilled craftspersons—they surmise that job plans should compensate for lack of job knowledge. This is not the case. No planner can plan jobs well enough to compensate for the lack of skills and knowledge of the professional craftspersons that modern maintenance requires.

Instead, planning helps by performing a knowledge-sharing function, and scheduling helps by adding the equivalent of more persons to the workforce without hiring.

First, planners should function as “craft historians,” not “perfect plan providers.” No plan can ever be perfect, and maintenance is too complex to require craftspersons to blindly follow job plans. Skilled craftspersons must make judgments continually through their tasks. But as they work on different assets, many of them keep log books or save data in their lockers. Why? They use these notes when they go to work on the same assets in the future. Unfortunately, such notes are not available to other persons.

The best use of maintenance planners, then, is to set them up as “craft historians” and encourage crafts to provide feedback notes on work orders that the planner can save for everyone. With this manner of knowledge transfer, the general skill of the existing workforce rises. A workforce becomes more skilled in total as “lessons learned” are shared. A plant gains a more-skilled workforce from within.

Second, statistical studies showing “wrench time” to be only 35% at typical plants means there is an opportunity to increase productivity. Proper scheduling can boost productivity and increase a workforce’s effective size. Say that a plant has 20 mechanics and wants to hire 10 more but can’t find qualified persons. Instead of hiring anyone, the plant makes one of the 20 persons a planner-scheduler. Properly scheduling weekly work for the other 19 persons increases their wrench time to 55%. At 55%, the 19 persons are completing work orders at the rate of 30 persons (19 × 55%/35%). The plant has gained the equivalent of 10 persons without hiring anyone. And these “new” 10 persons have the same skill set as the existing 19 persons. If the plant had skilled persons to begin with, it has just hired the equivalent of 10 more equally skilled craftspersons for free.

Nonetheless, remember TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. A company must train and retain skilled talent. A company must pay for talent. A company doesn’t get something for nothing. A quote shared at an SMRP conference years back noted, “It is better to train persons and lose them than to not train them and keep them.” A company can take its existing workforce, formally develop its skills, and share knowledge among team members to further hone the workforce’s skills. And the company can use proper scheduling to gain a 50% skilled workforce increase without hiring. By getting 10 persons for free, a company can certainly pay the 20-person actual workforce enough to retain them.

It is hard to find qualified craftspersons. But a company can leverage planning and scheduling to increase the skill and size of its existing force as if new individuals had been found and hired. Do planning and scheduling. Increase your workforce without hiring.