Working overtime to fix the overtime problem

June 12, 2014
By: Dan Davis

Metal fabricators that continue to lean on a select few interested in working excessive amounts of overtime are running the increased risk of employee burnout or production mistakes on the shop floor. They need to take steps to prepare the entire workforce to absorb additional manufacturing tasks, not just the few and proud to be working OT.

It’s rare nowadays to interact with a metal fabricating operation that isn’t running some kind of overtime. Sure, business may not be consistent throughout the year, which isn’t unusual for a job shop, and there may be relatively slow periods where the company hasn’t had to ask workers to put in the extra time. However, today’s lean work environments virtually guarantee that someone will be working late into the night or on a weekend to meet some deadline.

A recent study from Accenture and The Manufacturing Institute reinforces those observations on overtime. More than 70 percent of the 300 executives of large manufacturing companies (with an annual revenue of $100 million) said that they had witnessed at least a 5 percent increase in overtime costs in recent months. Thirty-two percent reported an increase of 10 percent or more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics echoes these findings; it reports that average overtime hours in the durable goods manufacturing sector have crept up to 4.6 hours per week from 4.3 a year ago.

In all honesty, the focus of the Accenture and The Manufacturing Institute study—“Out of Inventory: Skills Shortage Threatens Growth for U.S. Manufacturing”—is more focused on the reason that may be causing all of the overtime: the inability to find the right workers. But that topic has been discussed ad nauseam. It’s going to be a slow fix as manufacturers attempt to coax the next generation of workers to consider a career in manufacturing. The point that needs to be addressed is what can be done now because a consistent dose of overtime for a workforce is an easy way to overburden dependable workers and increase the chance for sloppy mistakes. (In that same survey, the manufacturing executives surveyed said that downtime increased by at least 5 percent as overtime increased because maintenance on machines was neglected.)

So what can metal fabricating companies do to avoid excessive overtime?

  1. Find out what skills exist within the employee ranks and then take steps to ensure more people are capable of doing multiple jobs. Drew Greenblatt, owner of Marlin Steel, Baltimore, has done just that, which allowed him to strengthen areas where he didn’t have a deep bench of knowledgeable workers.
  2. Establish a formalized training program to strengthen the in-house talent pool. Once the skill-set shortcomings have been identified, this is the only way to expand workers’ skills.
  3. Reach out to local community colleges or other educational institutions to find those new workers. This is something that a lot of metal fabricators don’t want to do, but it’s almost a necessity if they want to find the right fits for their organizations. You can read more about this here.

Most might argue that workers want the overtime, and they are probably correct. But sometimes management has to step in and do what’s right for the company and individual. A year’s worth of excessive overtime isn’t good for anyone.

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8281