Flex Time on the Assembly Floor

Oregon Business Magazine: http://www.oregonbusiness.com/100best/companies/2016/item/16435-work-here

People employed by banks, technology companies and other knowledge-based companies and professional services often have the luxury of flex time — people who work for manufacturers, not so much. “We’re production oriented,” says Lori Miles-Olund, president of Portland-based Miles Fiberglass & Composite. “You can’t work from home in our industry.”

In lieu of scheduling autonomy, Miles Fiberglass offers its workers the opportunity to learn new skills and move between different departments. This kind of flexibility is key to retaining millennial workers, says Justin Luchak, quality assurance and head facilitator for Miles Fiberglass. “Young people in particular are interested in learning more skills in different areas.”

To incentivize workers to stay on with the company, Miles Fiberglass provides a bonus at five years, another at 10 and yet another at 15. “But the incentive isn’t just for time invested,” Luchak says. “It’s also for skills improvement.”
Paola Castaldo, a consultant with the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership (OMEP), agrees manufacturers face unique challenges in creating a more autonomous workplace. “I like to work really late at night if I can, rather than a normal day,” Castaldo says. “But folks in manufacturing can’t do that.”

How can production-line employers inject creativity and flexibility into the workplace? One possibility is tasking assembly-line workers with finding new ways of doing their jobs more efficiently, Castaldo says. But isn’t that typically the work of an outside consultant — like Castaldo?

“The only difference between me and them is that I have the privilege of having that background — being able to go to school,” she says. “Because I have the knowledge base, I learn how to use a software program that will make my job a hell of a lot easier. But why can’t manufacturing workers have access to those ways of thinking?  Let’s help them learn and solve problems so they can do what I do.”

Borrowing another page from the knowledge sector, Luchak says closing the gap between the owners/upper management and employees is key to making Miles Fiberglass a great place to work. “The employees aren’t just ones and zeros,” says Luchak. “The owners and upper management are constantly out on the floor.”

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