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Corey Brown


Top Challenges Impacting the Frontline Workforce

Best solutions are collaborative

Published: Monday, December 6, 2021 - 12:03

Even with advancements in technology and automation, the frontline workforce remains essential to modern manufacturing operations. In fact, 72 percent of factory work is still performed by people.

This means that operators, technicians, and line managers are all your biggest operational risks.

Manufacturing organizations have the same goals—reduce waste, improve quality, and increase efficiency. But operational excellence is an evolving target.

With the generational shift happening in the frontline workforce, manufacturing employees are facing a new set of challenges that directly affect these goals in unique ways. It’s time to understand the needs of the frontline workforce and how new strategies can empower them to perform their best.


Manufacturing has a perception problem. Overall interest in manufacturing has decreased by more than 70 percent since 2004, according to Google Trend analytics.

Why? The general public still sees the industry as a dirty, dead-end career. This makes it difficult to attract top talent and fill empty roles.

In combination with rising retirement rates, this has created a shortage of skilled labor on the frontline workforce, and this gap impacts manufacturing operations in a major way.

The average U.S. manufacturer is losing an estimated $3,000 per existing employee, due to the talent shortage. Simply filling open positions has a huge impact on frontline performance and operational costs.


Today’s workforce stays with their employer only for an average of 2.8 years. For the industrial sector, it’s even less.

This means less time to onboard, less time to train, and less time to take all that knowledge and improve upon existing skills.

Plant managers are in a constant game of catch-up, backfilling positions, and spending valuable time and resources to train new hires.

Training and upskilling

Due to high retirement and turnover rates, the traditional ways of passing down knowledge via one-on-one training are no longer viable. There simply aren’t enough senior employees to train and mentor new hires.

Effective training and knowledge management strategies are among the best ways to help frontline employees because they accelerate time to competency and allow for easier upskilling.

For manufacturers that need to hire and train fast, traditional training methods are a bottleneck for scaling training programs.

More than 55 percent of manufacturers agree that better training methods are the best way to reduce quality costs. Investing in frontline training is also an investment in quality and your bottom line.

Downtime and equipment failure

Downtime still remains one of the most costly problems on the factory floor. Broken equipment can rack up millions of dollars in costs and create serious downstream problems.

Whether it’s not following proper maintenance procedures, improperly trained operators, or a lack of troubleshooting knowledge, the root cause of machine downtime is still human-centric.

By providing more resources for frontline employees to be better trained and solve problems as they arise, companies can save millions in operational waste and increase customer satisfaction.

Empowering the frontline workforce

Although the manufacturing industry has seen a lot of progress, there is still plenty of opportunity for growth. Many companies have begun the journey to digital transformation but lack coherence between strategies, tools, and frontline needs.

New digital technology can help provide modern ways for the incoming workforce to engage with their work and support employee performance.

Even though modern digital tools promise exciting results, they can’t succeed if the people using these tools aren’t on board. Ninety-seven percent of transformations fail when they don’t engage line managers and frontline employees.

Operators and line managers will be the most aware of the unique challenges affecting your business. Take the time to learn about the daily challenges that your frontline workforce faces and involve them in digital strategies early on.

Empowering the frontline workforce isn’t about pushing new technologies to the factory floor. It’s about taking a collaborative approach to supporting the needs of your most valuable assets—people.


About The Author

Corey Brown’s picture

Corey Brown

Corey Brown is the lead researcher and editor for manufacturing resources on Dozuki.com. With a background in engineering and technical communication, Corey specializes in quality management, standard work, and lean manufacturing.