Industry 4.0 has brought about huge changes in the manufacturing industry over the last decade. Artificial intelligence, mobility, and machine connectivity are just a few of the new technologies paving the way for the digitization of plant floors and are often anchored at the center of operational strategies. 

Throughout this evolving technological landscape, people have remained the most critical resource for manufacturers, performing 72 percent of the tasks and creating 71 percent of the value. Yet, effective labor scheduling — aligning staffing to meet the demands of a business — is often overlooked. Even if the right balance of labor to production schedules is initially achieved, changes in available materials, unplanned absences, or increased/decreased orders can misalign labor, making it difficult to ensure the right people are in the right jobs. Without that balance, there can be major implications and costs, such as unnecessary overtime expenditures, possible slowing or shutdown of production lines, and missed production goals or customer deadlines.

For manufacturers to align labor to business requirements in a cost-effective way, they need to implement modern labor scheduling practices utilizing new technologies.

Why is effective labor scheduling so important in manufacturing?

Industry 4.0 has paved the way for new technologies to help manufacturers around the globe to meet their goals – running efficient production lines, maximizing productivity, reducing costs, improving quality, maintaining compliance, and running safe operations. To meet those goals, manufacturers place emphasis on investing in technologies such as MES and production planning tools. Workforce scheduling practices and technologies have often been left to analog methodologies and processes. 

Today, manufacturers have the opportunity to see how effective scheduling can positively impact operational goals. This visibility can ensure they get the right people in the right job at the right time, minimize production time and costs, maximize efficiency of the operation, and build a more engaged workforce. 

What Challenges Do Manufacturers Face With Employee Scheduling?

Employee scheduling in the manufacturing workforce has unique challenges, such as correctly aligning best-fit employees to meet production requirements, maintaining regulatory and union compliance, and balancing employee preference with business needs. Inadequate scheduling practices can elevate these complexities and have a negative impact on productivity, safety, compliance, and employee engagement. 

  • An evolving workforce: Today’s manufacturing workforce is made up of five generations – from Boomers to Gen Z. Each have differing motivations in the workplace, and more senior employees likely have priority over requesting PTO and vacation time, adding complexity to scheduling. The majority of the workforce, upwards of 80%, is also hourly, leaving substantial room for error if antiquated scheduling practices are used. Another challenge is the impending Silver Tsunami of Baby Boomer retirements accompanied by a growing skills gap. More than 2.7 million retirements coupled with 3.4 million manufacturing jobs being generated over the next ten years leaves a projected 2.4 million jobs unfilled by 2024. 

For Manufacturers to remain competitive, they must implement new technologies that younger generations expect in the workplace. Modern employee scheduling technologies are part of that ecosystem, as they allow employees to easily access their schedules. 


Manufacturing Workforce


  • Potential compliance concerns: Manual or semi-manual systems for employee time and pay can expose manufacturers to wage and hour claims and union grievances. Scheduling rules can also vary in complexity around shift lengths, flextime, and night/day shifts, and need to be accounted for when creating schedules to remain compliant. 
  • Countering worker fatigue: Creating a safe work environment starts with properly managing employee fatigue. Scheduling practices play a huge role in worker safety by creating visibility into rest time and hours worked. 
  • Aligning skills with assignments: Modern scheduling systems also track training compliance, skills, and certifications, helping ensure the employees scheduled for a job have the right skills and qualification. 
  • Employee assignment, preferences, and overtime: Given the size of the hourly workforce, managing preferences, shift bidding, and overtime sign-ups can be complex and time consuming. 
  • Meeting production requirements: Optimizing the workforce to meet production requirements is the primary goal of scheduling but can be a moving target as those requirements fluctuate given available materials, changes in customer demand, or unexpected machine downtime. 

How Can Technology Help?

The technologies used to propel digital transformation on the plant floor can also be applied to scheduling. Artificial intelligence can be applied through automated scheduling, machine learning algorithms can predict business volumes, learn scheduling practices over time and automatically schedule employees based on production schedules and employee preferences. The industrial internet of things (IIoT) shows that real-time access to data provides the agility to realign labor when needed, and mobile capabilities enable employees to access their schedules from anywhere, at any time. 

What Are The Benefits of Effective Employee Scheduling?

Effective employee scheduling affects more than just employees – it plays an important role in the overall efficiency and profitability of any manufacturer. 

  • Create a differentiated employee experience and improved engagement
  • Improve compliance and safety risk management
  • Meet production goals and control labor costs while delivering high-quality products
  • Increase profitability 

Modern, automated scheduling technologies are key to any manufacturer’s digital transformation strategy and drive better business outcomes. 

To hear what’s trending this year from Mercer and learn how Kellogg is implementing scheduling technologies, view the webinar replay: Examining Global Talent Trends and Modern Workforce Technologies in Manufacturing.


Published: Friday, August 16, 2019