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Enabling frontline workers to drive efficiency and cost reductions with lean manufacturing

When it comes to supply chain and logistics, efficiency takes center stage. Central to this pursuit is the practice of lean manufacturing, which identifies processes and practices to streamline operations, reduce costs, and engage frontline workers.

However, multiple misconceptions surround lean, from its purpose to its impact on the workforce. Contrary to popular belief, lean does not typically result in layoffs and is not merely about trimming the fat. It’s a strategic growth initiative that demands investment and engagement at every level – including your frontline employees.

Unlocking efficiencies through lean manufacturing requires active participation and support from frontline workers familiar with daily tasks and operations. Warehouses and manufacturing facilities can tap into their expertise by involving frontline workers in all aspects of lean training and instilling a deeper understanding of lean’s purpose and methodology.

Recent surveys reveal a disconnect between the potential benefits of involving more employees and actual lean training practices. Historically, frontline workers have been left out of lean training even though 72% of manufacturers say production would increase, and 91% believe their workers would be more engaged in efficiency efforts if they understood lean principles and objectives. Yet only 40% of manufacturers provide lean training to frontline workers.*

Let’s break down some of the positive outcomes of extending lean training to a broader set of warehouse and manufacturing employees.

Strategic investments for tomorrow

The beauty of lean lies in its ability to generate substantial cost savings that can fund employee-related initiatives such as enhanced training, upgraded tools, and new technology or wellness programs. By introducing these benefits, frontline workers can see the advantages of lean manufacturing firsthand. Redirecting lean savings back into the workforce creates a culture of loyalty and empowerment among frontline workers.

Companies can build trust and provide a sense of belonging by showing they value employees enough to dedicate resources that improve their work environment. Skill-building programs, health and wellness programs and facilities, and employee assistance programs demonstrate commitment to frontline employees who become a driving force for long-term prosperity.

Maximizing employee potential and growth

As the lean process takes hold, a transformative shift occurs within the workforce. Enhanced efficiency gives employees more time and opportunities to explore other value-added tasks. Companies have more time to cross-train employees, giving them additional skills and opportunities for professional growth.

Embracing the spirit of experimentation

One of the most important facets of lean manufacturing is the willingness to embrace experimentation. Failure is necessary for continuous improvement and is one of the most critical factors in the overall success of the lean process. Every employee, from the frontline workers to managers to top executives, plays a pivotal role. Implementing lean processes requires managers and workers to introduce new ideas, some of which will work and some that won’t. Ideas that don’t work provide employees with valuable lessons. A good rule of thumb for all lean improvements is to plan, do, check, and adjust.

Lean manufacturing uncovers new efficiencies and cost savings that can be reinvested to create a more engaged and empowered workforce. When employees are incentivized to find more savings, a never-ending cycle of improvements and efficiencies is created.

*Source: Industry Survey, “The Regulatory, Economic, and Workforce Trends that Will Shape 2023,” Intertek Alchemy

About the Author:

Holly Mockus has over 30 years of experience in safety and quality assurance roles at companies like ConAgra, Kellogg, and Sara Lee, Holly currently serves as Director, Content and Industry Strategy at Intertek Alchemy, where she helps to create world-class workforce development solutions for large, complex operations within the manufacturing industry.

Author: Holly Mockus

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