In an industry undergoing significant change and with an increasing focus on technological advancements, it is important to consider the implications of this change for your most important asset: your people.

AMTIL service partner Rigby Cooke Lawyers recently appointed Accredited Workplace Relations Specialist Simone Caylock to the firm’s partnership. Simone has worked closely with companies within the manufacturing industry for over 10 years, including at the Australian Industry Group. We sat down with Simone to look to the future of workplace relations in manufacturing.

AMT: What are the key challenges manufacturers face in managing their workforce and how can they overcome them?

Simone Caylock: Attracting and retaining skilled employees, including engaging the next generation of workers, are key challenges. Businesses that are successful in doing so are being proactive, including by: building relationships with schools, training organisations and local councils; identifying career paths for employees (including in overseas operations); and using social media and other tools to promote their business as an attractive workplace and culture by telling their good news story.

Many manufacturers are also experiencing challenges associated with an ageing workforce, including concerns around fitness for work, ensuring they have the right skill mix for the future, and that knowledge is transferred before retirement. Understanding and balancing your obligations under OH&S and anti-discrimination laws is critical, as is avoiding ‘stereotyping’ and not making assumptions about capacity and willingness to adapt to change. Employers who meet these challenges well have a medium and longer-term workforce strategy, take a systematic and consistent approach, and communicate openly and regularly with their workforce about where the business is at and where it needs to be.

AMT: Due to advancements in process and technology, companies often need staff to upskill and work across multiple processes. What legal obligations should employers consider during this process?

SC: Employers may lawfully require employees to undertake training and perform new or additional duties within the level of their skills and competence. When doing so, you must ensure OH&S obligations are met and consider the potential impact on an employee’s classification and pay rate under any relevant award or agreement.

Employers are required to consult with employees (and if applicable their representatives) about major changes that are likely to have significant effects on them and changes to their regular rosters or hours of work, before the change is introduced. This includes: major changes in the operation or size of the workforce or skills required; need for retraining or transfer to other work/locations; and redundancies.

Ensuring that any proposed changes are consistent with any applicable award, enterprise agreement and employment contract is also essential.

Companies I have seen successfully manage change (regardless of size) are open about their challenges and future plans and continue to engage with employees throughout the process – including recognising that shopfloor employees are often best placed to identify areas for improvement.

AMT: Efficiency is integral to success within the manufacturing industry – what steps can companies take to structure their workforce to increase productivity and profitability?

SC: Companies must be flexible and adapt to changes in the industry if they wish to remain competitive. One way they can achieve this is by reviewing existing employment arrangements, shift patterns and practices (including overtime) to ensure they meet the current and future anticipated needs of the business and are as cost-effective as possible. Companies with enterprise agreements containing restrictive legacy provisions can take steps to negotiate these out of the agreement or, if necessary, apply to have the agreement terminated after its nominal expiry date.

Ensuring you have the right skills (including at supervisor and managerial level), effective management of performance and absenteeism, and promoting a culture of continuous improvement, recognition and reward is also important.

Ultimately, to remain competitive, manufacturers must look at their business through a new lens and be prepared to modify their employment strategy to keep up with innovation within the industry.

AMTIL has an exclusive service partnership with Rigby Cooke Lawyers, helping our members with a wide array of legal services. For more information contact Veronica Grossman, Business Development & Marketing Manager at Rigby Cooke Lawyers.