Ensure your business strategy includes a properly staffed future.
By Alex Morales, M.Ed.
Precast concrete manufacturers need to stay ahead of the reality that there will be more than 3 million available manufacturing jobs left vacant by 2025.1 Tactics used over the past two decades to find plant-floor employees will need to be revamped in the coming years.
The good news is proper strategic workforce planning can help companies identify improvements to their human resource practices that also align with their overall business strategies.
For many decades, companies have been able to assume people would be available to do the work regardless of what types of precast products are made. If you have a multi-year strategic plan in place right now, it’s time to take a fresh look at that assumption. A plan may need to be added to find and keep the workforce necessary to make your business strategy work.
A changing demographic
Although it may seem impossible, the workforce today is both younger and simultaneously older than ever before. The economic crisis in the late 2000s caused many baby boomers to postpone retirement.2 With an improved economy, retirements now loom.
At thee same time, millennials now make up a sizable chunk of the workforce. The older, more seasoned industry veterans will retire within a very short timeframe, leaving millennials to make up the majority of the workforce by 2025.
A new generation shaped by not just the advent of technology, but by the speed with which it continually evolves, millennials will remain with employers who are innovating, the workforce a key performance indicator (KPI) in your strategic plan? Have you considered whether your plan works if you have fewer plant-floor employees than you have now? Or, did you take for granted a ready workforce? These are important questions that a solid strategic workforce planning activity will help you answer.
By definition, workforce planning is a process used to align the needs and priorities of the organization with those of its workforce to ensure it can meet its production requirements and organizational objectives.4 A typical workforce planning activity is a five-step process:
1. Understand your current and future business goals
2. Identify the capacity and capability of your current workforce to achieve these goals
3. Forecast the capacity and capability of the workforce you think you will need
4. Identify any gaps and strategies to close those gaps
5. Review and evaluate the workforce strategy you put in place
STEP 1: Review business strategy
Successful precast operations conduct regular strategic planning sessions to address business decisions such as product line diversification, capital investments, hiring and firing, spending freezes and more. However, workforce shortages will require companies to review their current strategy, especially if they haven’t been considered.5 While you may look at this step as already completed, the point is to bring the strategic planning activity back to the forefront for a fresh look.
STEP 2: Analyze current workforce
A company with a great staff may believe this step is relatively straight forward. However, this isn’t an HR-centric, annual appraisal-type activity. This step in the workforce planning process is to look at the current employee roll and consider not only how well they are performing their assigned tasks but what they excel with overall.
Many businesses have reviewed their employees, identified their strengths and focused them in those areas. In a manufacturing environment that thrives on process repeatability, that can work well. But a company must also know its employees well, or ask the right questions, to determine some intangible skills. Do they respond well to change? How do they handle stressful situations? Do they learn new tasks quickly? Do others look up to them? It’s a high-level, objective look at skills that aren’t always evaluated when conducting annual performance reviews.
This step takes time and can involve management, leadership and representatives from HR. Depending on the employee, their involvement in the process can assist in getting them to accept your company’s vision.
STEP 3: Forecast future workforce
Unlike step 2, forecasting your future workforce is not about specific individuals. This step refers to your business plan and looks at what your workforce needs will be in the future, regardless of who is on the current payroll. If you’ve established a preferred future that includes the impact of workforce shortages, potential economic contractions and other factors, it may include a plan to diversify product offerings, automate some processes, and/or sunset lower performing product lines or products that become obsolete. Whatever the plan is, this step asks to look at how you envision your future plant and how to begin staffing the vision by skillset.
Questions to ask may include:
- What roles are needed to make the vision work?
- Will a crew lead be needed for a wet-cast line and a separate crew lead for a dry-cast line? To whom would they report? Who would report to each crew lead?
- What type of person should handle sunsetting a product line? What skills should they have?
- If that person is me, who will do the work I am doing now?
STEP 4: Identify skills gaps and plan to address them
This step has two parts and they are interrelated.
Identify skills gaps
Now that you’ve identified the skills of all the people employed and have identified the skills of the workforce you’ll need in the future, you can focus on the gap in skills you want to address. This will be unique to every plant. Some plants may identify they want someone with dry-cast equipment experience. Others may determine they need to change a plant manager. Plants may identify they need more production floor employees in 2025 or that their management-level succession plan needs to be addressed. Whatever specific skills gaps you identify, you need to address how to fill those gaps in order to make your overall strategic plan work.
Skills gap action plan
Once you have identified the skills gaps between your current workforce and your future strategy, you need to address them. The beauty behind this process is it is not part of an individual evaluation. These are overall workforce skills gaps attributable to your preferred future as a business. It presents an opportunity to engage your HR department in strategic-level work.
Some skills gap assessments reveal current employees should be cultivated for new roles. If that’s the case, you can gauge employees’ commitment to the company and, if they’re willing, use their development as a retention strategy.6 Developing current employees and addressing skills gaps is an investment in your company’s future. It is certainly better to enter 2025 with a fired-up existing employee with the right skills than to hire a new person.
Employee development opportunities will allow you to prepare employees for new company roles, but it will also create needs in the areas they vacate. An action plan should include a hiring strategy for new roles and an overall plan to attract individuals to your plant.7
STEP 5: Monitor and evaluate
Once your company’s HR/workforce strategy aligns with your overall business strategic plan, you must revisit it periodically to determine progress. It’s important to assess the impact of your plan on all your employees. Are employees responding well to training or coaching initiatives? Has there been a market impact to a product line you intended to expand? It is impossible to list every scenario for every plant around the country, but the point of this step is to continually assess strategic plan changes and evaluate their impact on your workforce plan.
Create your own workforce plan
You might find examples of workforce planning cycles online that contain more or fewer steps in the process. Although there are many customized examples on the internet, all will guide you through a skills gap analysis to close that gap and conduct periodic reassessments of your plan.
Consider a review of your strategic plan in light of your workforce needs and determine if outside help would beneficial. Many state offices offer local information or guidance documents on workforce planning and have workforce-related grant funds available to the precast industry through the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act or a Manufacturing Extension Partnership. NPCA will continue to report on the latest in workforce development and planning to ensure your company stays prepared.
Alex Morales, M.Ed., is NPCA’s director of workforce development.