Factory workers are the apparel industry’s first line of defense in quality control, and too often they’re set up to fail before they even get out of the gate.
It’s not hard to understand why factory owners are often hesitant to invest in their workers. With 2 percent monthly turnover rates, many mistakenly believe it’s wasteful to dedicate much-needed resources toward employees who might just leave. Meanwhile, workers who aren’t stakeholders in the quality and performance of their factories are more likely to quit, creating a vicious cycle that contributes to poor quality, more waste and higher costs.
“If you want the makers in your factories to become stakeholders of quality and performance, you need to make investments in them, the same way you do with your corporate team,” said Jose Suarez, CEO and founder of Impactiva. “As an industry, we need to ask ourselves why we have considered the humans building our products less important than the humans designing them.”
By training and educating the entire workforce through change management, factory owners reap the benefits of drastic improvements in quality and productivity, saving capital that they can reinvest into their workforce. Not only does this benefit a company’s bottom line, but it also advances environmental sustainability by eliminating billions in manufacturing waste and increasing the capacity of the industry to absorb future growth.
“Change management must begin with addressing culture, and culture starts with people,” noted Suarez. “Only by educating, engaging and empowering makers can a factory hope to change and evolve into a continuous improvement-focused organization.”
Concentrating on these five investments will put factory owners on that path toward growth and sustainability.
Today’s apparel and textile factory workers are often placed onto the production line without receiving proper training. (Many aren’t even able to identify a defect, let alone understand how to correct it.) When they do receive training, it’s typically minimal and on just one skill or operation, pigeon-holing them to perform that single process for their entire tenure.
By providing engaging training on the entire production process—particularly on the processes of what comes before their step and what comes after—workers learn to recognize mistakes and how to correct them earlier. In addition to helping forge a relationship between the maker and the quality of his or her work, it also reduces costs by identifying more problems before they require expensive fixes.
If you want your workers to take pride in the products they are creating, invest in their education.
As William Deming said more than 50 years ago: “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” Consider the team that you work on today. More than likely you or your leaders have set KPIs or OKRs; you probably also use some sort of project management tool to give you visibility into tracking the work you’re doing. These tools allow you to visualize what needs to be improved and stay on track to meet your goals both individually and as a team.
Today’s makers work in a total vacuum. When you give someone the tools to visualize, in real time, their own performance, it engages them, prompts them to compete with themselves, and spurs them to improve day after day. They know when they’re having a bad day and when they are exceling. This type of visibility into their performance makes them proud of the work they are doing or allows them to get assistance when needed.
“Data is crucial as it provides for transparency, which is key but it’s hard to hold someone accountable if they’re not trained and empowered,” said Suarez. “Educating the workforce and up-skilling workers enables them to earn more money and contribute to the factory’s goals of improved speed, quality and efficiency.”
When workers are empowered to act to escalate quality issues, the burden on middle managers is eased, creating a more positive atmosphere and inclusive culture.
Research from Gartner indicates 45 percent of managers aren’t confident in their ability to develop the skills needed of today’s workers, even if they were afforded unlimited time to coach their direct reports. What’s more worrisome is that “70 percent of employees have not mastered the skills they need for their jobs today, let alone the skills needed for their future roles,” according to the firm.
Supervisors have the power to set the tone for the factory, but too often they’re thrust into situations with no training and little support. As they struggle to discover their own leadership styles, they’re left to manage teams of hundreds via a trial-and-error process that ultimately fails.
Managing and understanding the most productive ways to handle people is an incredibly difficult job and one that is almost impossible to do well without any guidance. Investing in your middle managers will empower them to better guide their workers.
In order for makers to work with positive energy and pride, they first need to understand the value of transparency and the benefits of accountability. This is most effectively completed through communication training, a soft skill that’s critical to building a harmonious and productive work environment. Supervisors should be trained on the value of constructive conversation and the proper way to deliver feedback, while makers should be taught the merits of teamwork. By cultivating a culture in pursuit of continuous improvement, employees appreciate that trying new methods and taking initiative are good things.
“Everyone needs to understand that their voice matters,” noted Suarez, “and that if they think something can be done differently in order to improve results, then they should be able to put forth their idea for the good of the team.”
Growth can be painful, and mistakes are a necessary part of the process. If you want your workers to grow and change, you need to be accepting of mistakes and foster an environment that represents that.
“The only way we get better is to try. The only way people will try is if they feel safe in their workplace,” said Suarez.
An environment based on trust and security is best accomplished through a top-to-bottom commitment to continuous improvement. When everyone is a stakeholder in improving quality and the well-being of their workforce, the entire factory reaps the rewards.
Click to learn more about Impactiva.