An Inspired Workforce – The Bigger Picture

By Tim Waldo, CIS Workforce Development Specialist
(This article was posted on Tim Waldo’s LinkedIn page)

Having uninspired workers in our manufacturing facilities is bad for everyone. As mentioned before, it can be particularly harmful for small manufacturers. We are all becoming more connected, either directly or indirectly, and those connections are multiplying. Collectively, these associations have raised the stakes with regard to the need for engaged workers. In addition to spreading opportunities to emerging markets, globalization and technology have dramatically increased competition. Shared industrial commons and business ecosystems from the local level to the national level and beyond, make us aware that we are all susceptible, together, to the forces that move the markets; including the labor market.

The 2017 study by Gallup titled State of the Global Workplace, offered this observation, “Business and political leaders must recognize when traditional patterns in management practices, education or gender roles, for example, become roadblocks to workers’ motivation and productivity, and when selectively disrupting tradition will help clear a path to greater prosperity and transformed company cultures.”

Why would political leaders be considered such an integral part of this conversation? Governments have always played a role in workforce development. When it comes to workforce engagement these leaders understand that there is a direct correlation to productivity, innovation and of course competitiveness. In a growing and robust global economy, all of these are important elements to a nation’s well-being.

Over the years, Tennessee has continually ranked high among U.S. states for its business-friendly culture. Thanks to the effective leadership of many people and multiple entities in our state we enjoy a robust manufacturing sector, which includes an impressive number of multinationals. Undoubtedly, all of these global companies face this workforce engagement issue everywhere they operate facilities. If the U.S. market is better at engaging our workers, and the great state of Tennessee is the best in the nation at doing so, we will continue to win more business opportunities.

The DRIVE TO 55 initiative is one example of a fantastic, long-term effort to get our workforce ready both now and in the future. But what if the workplaces we send these highly educated workers to are not very engaging? What if our manufacturers, both small and large, haven’t done their work to create a place where men and women with great ambition can thrive and contribute? The implications are concerning. Among other things, it might lead to stagnant growth, slower innovation and weakening of key sectors. Fortunately, many manufacturers are doing well in this area and many more are working to improve with the support of educators, government and non-government entities. There’s more work to be done.

These same concerns extend to the national level. If U.S. companies fail to improve the level of engagement, then the nation’s position in the global economy could be in jeopardy. The Gallop study, State of the Global Workplace, surveyed 155 nations. Many are taking up the mantle of workforce engagement, and many will directly compete with the U.S. in the global market. The nation that excels in workplace development, whose manufacturers, from the largest to the smallest, build the most engaging and inspiring workplaces, will gain and hold a powerful competitive advantage.

Great manufacturing organizations are all about process improvements. The improvements that come from a more engaged workforce are many and varied, and could represent an incredible ROI for all companies who focus here.

We should set high goals in this area and work hard to attain them. Imagine what would happen if we as a nation reached 80 percent workforce engagement across manufacturing! Perhaps we should develop more accurate tools to measure engagement at the system level, and then look at that rate alongside the unemployment rate to give a more complete picture. There are many great ideas and best practices out there. Perhaps the best starting place is to gather these and share them more effectively.

An inspired workforce demands inspiring workplaces. Because small businesses account for the lion’s share of jobs in the U.S., and manufacturing is such a vital component to our nation’s and our state’s well-being, workforce engagement is an area where we can support small manufacturers as they, “…selectively disrupt…” the traditional workplace in the quest to engage their workers.