Automation: A Worker Shortage Solution
Automate. For years I dreaded hearing that word while delivering ergonomics training workshops. I have taught the ergonomics job improvement process for over 20 years, and when discussing improvements, the focus has always been to make high-impact, low-cost solutions (picking the low-hanging fruit). So, when I’m teaching teams to make small incremental improvements to a workstation, as an instructor, I’m trying to avoid the broad-brush solution of automating the operation. But after many conversations with clients over the past 12 months, my tune has changed. Here’s why.
There is a clear worker shortage in the US; as of this writing, the national unemployment rate is steady at 3.9%, the lowest since the 1960s. The states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Colorado are at 3.0 unemployment, with the state of Iowa at 2.6! These are states that have manufacturing, processing, and distribution needs and, thus, the need for workers.
How can a world-class ergonomics process help with this problem? Well, if a company can accurately predict a worker shortage, it should make every effort to keep the workers it has and to attract new workers in this competitive environment. If you had a choice of workplaces, wouldn’t you choose one that has been designed to fit your physical capabilities over one that breaks your back? The obvious answer is yes, and that is justification for a well-designed workplace through implementation of a great ergonomics process.
Let’s go back to that word “automate.” Our job improvement process teaches clients to quantify risk and prioritize tasks to identify those most likely to injure someone (tasks with the highest scores). Those top-priority tasks should become targets for automation. Several clients have successfully executed this approach and its one you may want to think about if a worker shortage is on the horizon.