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  Manufacturing is a highly dynamic industry dealing with a period of unprecedented volatility.

The ability to quickly and effectively adapt to change is now a strategic priority that will ultimately shape future success.

A productive, flexible workforce capable of responding to change will be key, but many manufacturers are still hamstrung by legacy approaches to structuring working time.

With over 25 years’ experience helping manufacturers transform shift working, we’re well aware of the challenges you face and are constantly helping businesses find innovative solutions to optimise shift working.

This article explores three areas relating to industry change which our customers regularly discuss with us:

1.     The changing nature of labour supply and demand.

2.     Difficulties forward planning.

3.     Increasing scrutiny of working practices.

This is the second in a series of short online pieces exploring shift work challenges in Manufacturing. The first, ‘Feeling the pain’ (which can be accessed here), looks at recruitment and retention, capacity issues during peak demand and inadequate workforce management systems.

We hope you find them both useful.

1. The changing nature of labour supply and demand

With an aging workforce, continued uncertainty around Brexit and ongoing ‘Industry 4.0’ technological advancements, manufacturers’ demand for, and supply of, labour is changing.

Whilst the precise impact of these complex issues is not known, there’s no doubt that each will require a significant re-shaping of the workforce.

The key to responding effectively and maintaining Lean production lies in the ability to model your true demand and ensure your labour supply remains aligned over the short, medium and long term.

Common issues around the changing nature of labour supply and demand in manufacturing…


…and considerations when addressing them through your approach to shift working

 We’re unsure as to what impact   Brexit will have on our ability to   recruit and retain our EU workforce…

…maintaining a robust demand forecast will enable you to scenario plan, model potential supply issues and identify options/plans to adapt resourcing patterns to better manage through volatility or capacity constraints.


 Brexit might mean in future we’re   going to have to be able to compete   more effectively with international   manufacturers who have much lower   cost bases…

…adopting an optimised model like Demand-Led Rostering will help create more predictable labour costs and deliver substantial productivity and efficiency gains. This can open up many more options to invest in maintaining competitive advantage.


 As part of ‘Industry 4.0’ we’re   committed to adapting aspects of our   production, but we are struggling to   understand how to transition effectively   without losing key skills…

…shift patterns can be designed and managed to evolve employee’s role and skill sets over time. Working time can be gradually redistributed to support different ways of working, new roles and emerging requirements. 


 We’re concerned about the ‘skills   cliff’   created by the proportion of our   workforce nearing retirement age and   the fact we’re struggling to attract new   talent…

…open up more options for employees or candidates by creating a ‘suite’ of new shift patterns that suit different stages or lifestyles. This would enable you to better support those wishing to work reduced hours as they approach retirement as well as attracting new demographics seeking increased flexibility and diversity. 



2. Difficulties forward planning

We speak to many Manufacturers who are clear that the inability to plan effectively lies at the heart of their productivity and wellbeing challenges.

This is often compounded by inflexible, legacy approaches to shift working that limit the options available to adapt to change.

The combination of good forward planning and a responsive, well-managed resourcing model will become increasingly important to competitive advantage, margins and ultimately manufacturers’ survival.

Common issues around forward planning…



…and considerations when addressing them through your approach to shift working

We have limited visibility over key working time information that supports effective tactical planning…

…ensure you have access to live roster information so you can maintain a detailed and accurate picture of key information such as cover, overtime, skill availability, holidays, flex and reserve. This will also enable you to assess and compare rosters, pinpoint potential staff shortages and re-optimise schedules in line with your labour demand and supply.


Even if we could predict demand more accurately, I don’t think we have the ability to respond strategically to the information…

…simplifying and standardising complex legacy contracts, processes and structures is key to improving flexibility. So is ensuring you have the workforce management systems in place to ensure new ways of working are maintained and continuously improve and adapt to change.



There’s just too much volatility in our business. We’d spend most of our time re-planning...

…use demand trends, business requirements/constraints/assumptions and employee aspirations as the basis for modelling future organisational scenarios. You can then anticipate and plan macro future workforce requirements, whilst harnessing things such as seasonal patterns and well-managed flex/bank hours systems to provide additional flexibility as you move through the long/medium/short-range planning cycle.



3. Increasing scrutiny of working practices

Government, media, unions and potential employees are rightly placing greater emphasis on conditions in shift working environments.

Uncertainty over hours, excessive overtime, long-hours working during peak demand, a reliance on agency or zero hours staff and legacy shift working practices all create reputational and financial threats. 

On the flip side, progressive, well-managed working patterns are becoming the hallmark of ‘employers of choice’ in manufacturing and a powerful differentiator in competitive labour markets.


Common issues around working practices…

…and considerations when addressing them through your approach to shift working


We have high absence rates and regularly have complaints about fatigue, particularly during periods of peak demand…

…identify opportunities to re-distribute contracted hours so that overtime is not relied on to cover peak demand and ensure your shift patterns have been analysed using a fatigue and risk index. Also ensure your workforce management system closely monitors hours worked, identifies potential issues and automatically blocks actions that might lead to overworking.


We regularly stand-up or stand down employees at short notice, which has a significant impact on their home lives…

…adopting Demand-Led Rostering will provide much better visibility and notice over when someone might be required to work additional hours. Ensure your workforce management system gives you the ability to effectively balance additional hours requests across the workforce, making it fairer and reducing the impact on work-life balance.


As unpopular as some of our current working practices are, if we try to change it’s likely there will be resistance from the workforce….

…engage meaningfully with your workforce to discuss the rationale for change and the benefits it will deliver for them. Ensure any change is managed in a consultative and collaborative way so that any new ways of working are shaped by all parties with a stake in the organisation’s success.



What now?

There are a few options if you’d like to explore these challenges and considerations in more detail.

Workforce Planning Masterclass

Managing change is a key theme at our Workforce Planning Masterclass taking place on the 14th May 2020 in Manchester.

Over the past 15 years, Working Time Solutions’ Masterclass has established itself as a key event for manufacturers looking to design, implement and manage optimised shift patterns and rota schedules.

It’s an opportunity acquire valuable, actionable learnings from shift working experts and hear detailed case studies from industry leaders who are transforming their approach to shift work.

Click here for more information and to book your place.


Manufacturing Shift Work Clinic

Book a free, confidential 1-2-1 consultation with one of our sector experts who’ve delivered countless workforce planning and management projects for manufacturers.

It’s an opportunity to discuss your challenges and what the best course of action might be for your business.</</</

 Free remote 1-2-1 session

Secure a free, hour-long session with our experts to discuss your shift working challenges and potential solutions

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