The COVID-19 Pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns has completely disrupted the supply chain in the manufacturing sector. Speaking from a HR Perspective, what are the positives that have emerged for the days ahead?
The COVID pandemic has certainly been a disruptor and integrator in many ways. Despite the challenges faced by us in our business, there were quite a few learnings for the Human Resources team.
(a) At the plant, we took this time to complete the annual shutdown with minimum deployment of workforce.
(b) Another positive clearly was Work From Home (WFH), as people quickly acclimatised to digital technology. WFH was not something which came naturally for us. Hence, it was important that we plan and ensure that the business continues to operate in a digital environment. Elearning was put to good use.
(c) We also ensured that the leadership was constantly communicating with our colleagues, down to the last level, at regular intervals. We wanted everyone to stay positive and connected. In these tough times, with layoffs happening all around us, regular Webinars and sessions with senior management were very heartening and reassuring for our colleagues.
(d) We had reconciled to the fact that COVID-19 is here with us by the time Lockdown 3.0 was announced. Perhaps this was the best time to launch the implementation of SUCCESS FACTORS for digitising the entire “Hire to Retire” HR process for GHCL.
The breadth, depth, and scale of the novel challenges being experienced by the HR Managers during the course of the lockdown are indeed astounding. According to you, what are the biggest pain points for the manufacturing sector? How do the same need to be tackled by a HR Manager?
The lockdowns imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought in a host of challenges for the manufacturing sector, mostly because the nature of business is such that certain jobs cannot be carried out remotely. There were various disruptions and the sector was faced with demand slumps, cancellation or deferring of orders, leading to cash flows and collections under pressure. Additionally, the migrant labour issue led to the shortage of labour supply as well.
Safeguarding the health of the workforce and other stakeholders was a major concern. We put together immediate and contingent safety measures for our employees, and as the industry started opening, we decided which functions could be carried out remotely. We ensured flexible work arrangements, and of course, the change management to go with it. As an HR Manager, I believe that we are responsible for: -
(a) The health and safety of our employees as a caring organisation
(b) The growth and optimum utilisation of time for employees whether they are at office or working from home and
(c) They are well informed about the way forward
Technology has been the biggest boon in this pandemic and has made the above possible, irrespective of the location of our employees.
According to you, what has COVID-19 changed the most for HR professionals in the manufacturing sector? What are the areas of concern that employers might be called upon to address going forward?
The manufacturing sector lost valuable production time, and in the initial stages, logistics became a nightmare. HR learnt the art of keeping their house intact in spite of certain tough measures to take care of the rainy days, E.g. deferment of increments, promotions, expansions etc. Also, getting maximum productivity out of limited number of people deployed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been instrumental for the rapid transformation and extinction of certain job roles and the emergence of newer job roles. How has this affected the manufacturing sector in terms of job prospects?
I will not say it was truly the extinction of certain jobs, but the focus was more on the “Teeth” functions. Filling of vacant positions was deferred in terms of priority. I will not say that there was a big emergence of new roles, but certainly, there was some extra scope for increased job opportunity in new products linked to PPE and Mask making.
When it comes to addressing key concerns such as changing business needs and boosting employee morale, what are the vital points that function as an imperative for an organisation in your sector?
The dilemma of keeping the employee morale high while working from home persists, and more so, when the business prospects are poor while the economy is facing a downturn. However, we could carry out some very engaging sessions online for our value deployment effectively with e-learnings, leading to improved competencies. In addition, some Top management communication in terms of “MD Speaks” webinar sessions help in building trust and faith. Employees need to be aware of the exact business scenario and impact of COVID19 from the top leader. Last but not the least, in such challenging times, you rely on your intrinsic strength, and the core values of Respect, Trust, Ownership and Integrated teamwork must work as the guiding force in making the right decisions and keep everyone safe and positive during these tough times.
The largescale exodus of migrant workforce, who make for the frontline of any manufacturing organisation, comes as a huge setback, since it is near impossible to replenish fresh workforce post the lockdown. How do HR Managers convert this challenge into an opportunity?
After about three decades of functioning in an organisation, you add on to the fat and forget to work in a nimble footed manner. Therefore, with reduced workforce you learn to work more efficiently and productively. 12-hour working shifts helped to a certain extent. We were able to improve our efficiency in a lean environment. Moreover, lower numbers in workforce also ensured lesser job cuts without the need to say the obvious. Such situations help you to think and deliver creatively, be it automation or elimination of non-essential jobs. There is more time to reflect on your past deliverables and course correct things in the right way.
Do you think hybrid work arrangements would be a common feature of the workplaces going forward?
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