Retaining light industrial and manufacturing workers is an ongoing headache for employers. The key is an efficient yet thorough process that will get them quickly up to speed and ready to work. They don’t want to waste time, and neither do you, but throwing them onto the shop floor without adequate preparation is a recipe for rework, injury and sub-par product. It’s essential to keep up the production pace and keep your customers happy. The right onboarding process can improve retention, engagement and productivity and make new employees feel a part of the organization and its culture.

Standardize the Training Process

Efficient manufacturing is about operating with a standardized process. Why should training for manufacturing jobs be any different? To borrow another practice from manufacturing, consider “just in time” training. Teach new employees just what they need to know to be able to do their jobs out of the gate. If you train people on something they won’t be able to put into action until weeks or months down the road, there’s a good chance they will forget it. As a result, you’ll have to retrain them; worse, they’ll be too embarrassed to admit they forgot and will just wing it. The chance of that going well is pretty slim.

Remember Impact on the Organization

Don’t forget that how you onboard new employees also affects current employees. When a new worker joins the line, of course, it can slow productivity a bit. If production comes to a halt or slows to a snail’s pace, it can have consequences for all employees, particularly if there are metrics to hit or production bonuses at stake. It’s frustrating, and if it happens too often, you risk losing your best workers.

Utilize Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs)

Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs) offer technology to make onboarding consistent in delivery and content. These digital tools enable you to provide training on demand, customized to individual needs. Not every new worker starts with the same skills. DAPs will allow you to adapt as needed to prevent more advanced workers from getting bored and less experienced ones from getting lost. You may even consider pairing trainees up so those ramping up faster can mentor those who may need a little extra time. Managers can analyze the effectiveness of the training and adjust before the next hire.

Individualize Onboarding – But Set Common Standards

Your onboarding program should have the same goals and metrics for every worker, but the process and delivery method don’t need to be the same. Everyone learns differently and at a different pace. Mix up training daily or offer a menu of training options. If you provide video or in-person training, provide access to transcripts so they can reinforce their training or look up items they may have forgotten. Administer frequent quizzes throughout the process to identify where people are struggling with material as you go along rather than waiting until the end of the training period. Remember that the best retention comes from training, application and repetition.

Connect Their Work to the Organization

Part of the training should show the impact their job has on the company’s bottom line and why their work matters. Discuss the organization’s goals and values so they can see the larger picture and their place in it. Including employees at this level improves engagement and retention. Don’t lose employees before their start date. They are never more excited than the moment they hear they got the job.

Stay in regular contact with new hires via email and text. Explain what the first few days of training will be like so they know what to expect. You can even mail a welcome package to their home. This pre-start date preparation will empower them to walk into their first day of training with confidence.

Get Feedback

Find out what trainees thought of their onboarding. Did they feel well prepared when they got on the floor? Ask what they would have liked more or less of in training and whether the trainer appeared to have a good grasp of the material and communicated it well.

Speak to veteran employees about whether new team members are ready to hit the ground running or if there appear to be gaps in their training. Schedule regular check-ins so employees feel comfortable sharing thoughts and asking questions. Schedule additional or advanced training further down the road based on their feedback.

New employees are excited about their new job. Don’t kill that enthusiasm with a flawed onboarding process. Retention of manufacturing/light industrial workers starts on their first day – or even before.


Cathy Lanski is a senior copywriter with Haley Marketing. Find her work on the Ask Haley Blog, in The Staffing Stream, and the Bullhorn blog.