As a seasoned HR professional, you know it best: staying connected with the realities of the employees you oversee is key in advocating for those people and managing a successful operation. For HR managers working in the manufacturing industry, this means paying regular visits to the manufacturing floor to see how your teams can best function together. It also means gaining a deeper understanding of the high technical skills needed to work in the manufacturing environments of today.

If you work in HR in manufacturing or are transitioning to a new job in manufacturing here are some key reasons why you should consider making visiting the floor a higher priority in your daily schedule.

The Difference Between Desk Work and Floor Work

You don’t have to work in either industry to know that the workspaces of HR and manufacturing professionals look dramatically different. Manufacturing floors trade desks for technical workstations and the hum of an air conditioning unit for various pieces of machinery.

Visiting the manufacturing floor is key in observing these unique workspaces. For example, in some industries, HR departments send updates via email or a company intranet. This works when the majority of your workforce is sitting in front of a computer, but isn’t as effective on a manufacturing floor that prioritizes verbal or visual forms of communication. A trip to the manufacturing floor will allow you to see how managers communicate with their teams — be it through verbal announcements, notes on bulletin boards, or word-of-mouth between employees. Observing how communication works on the manufacturing floor will help tailor your approaches to best getting HR information to these employees.

A Deep Understanding of Health and Safety

Another difference between office work and manufacturing floor work is the health and safety challenges faced by employees. While air quality and workspace ergonomics may be the most pertinent issue facing office employees, visiting the manufacturing floor can help gain a better sense of the health and safety concerns and requests that HR departments may face. For example, noticing noise concerns may translate to your team advocating for auditory check-ins for employees. Noticing that some roles require a certain level of heavy lifting may lead to including mention of this in future job ads.

HR teams should have either a firm grasp of a workplace’s occupational health and safety standards, or a good connection with a safety professional in order to ensure they’re not incentivising or accidentally encouraging HR practices that could be dangerous for employees. In many cases, that begins with a trip to the manufacturing floor.

Manufacturing Industry Trades Hourly for Salary

Demand for manufacturing employees has changed over the past decades. The U.S. is seeing a huge deficit of skilled manufacturing employees. A Deloitte study estimated two million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled over the next decade.

This has changed the way companies hire and retain their skilled workers. Whereas nearly half of all production workers were paid by hourly wage in 2006, today, just one quarter of manufacturing employees are paid hourly. Manufacturing employees are increasingly hired as salaried, technical experts and this group makes up the largest number of employees on the floor today.

As a result, the relationship between HR and manufacturing floor staff becomes more ongoing, than project-based. Visiting the manufacturing floor can help your department get a better sense of how to best engage salaried, skilled employees over time, which will help with retention and workplace happiness.

Set aside some time to visit the manufacturing floor at your company. Not only will it help employees put a face to a name, but it will mean you are one step closer to finding the right solution for your employees and company.