SumTotal Blog

Chris Phelan (2 Posts)

Chris Phelan

Chris Phelan is the Manufacturing Industry Principal for Skillsoft and SumTotal, providing industry-specific insights and solutions that help our diverse base of manufacturing clients improve their performance. Chris has over 25 years of experience in the automotive, consumer electronics and aircraft industries as a mechanical engineer, engineering manager and business development executive. He has a particular passion for studying how manufacturers achieve best-in class performance in the areas of new product development and innovation. In his spare time Chris can be found hiking with his dogs, learning new guitar licks or following his beloved Syracuse Orange sports teams.

Top 5 Ways Workforce Management Adds Value to Manufacturing


Top 5 Ways Workforce Management Adds Value to Manufacturing

Manufacturing is enjoying a resurgence after the last recession with 94.6% of manufacturers somewhat or very positive about their company’s outlook in 2018. While there are many reasons for this optimism, a strong demand, particularly from European customers, is key according to Chad Moutray, Chief Economist with the National Association of Manufacturers.

While this is great news, it does not mean manufacturers can afford literally or metaphorically to take their foot off the pedal and remain competitive. Part of the challenge is managing an organization’s workforce. Granted technology is making huge strides to improve the efficiencies of this task; however, there is always room for improvement.

How workforce management cuts costs

Payroll is a significant expenditure for organizations. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics, unit labor costs in manufacturing increased 5.2% in the first quarter of 2018, up 2.5% from last year. A robust workforce management (WFM) solution offers the opportunity to control, eliminate waste and reduce costs.

Here’s a quick overview of the many ways WFM adds value to your organization:

  • Enables a shift from manual to automated systems to optimize your process. Many organizations already have some level of automation, but few have entirely optimized its capability.
  • Increases the use and benefits of workforce analytics with productivity and employee engagement drawing more significant attention.
  • Assists in the design and creation of strategic workforce planning to address the skill shortage problem manufacturers are facing. More than ever, manufacturers need to be extremely diligent in managing their workforce.
  • Ensures employees are scheduled only for those shifts/tasks they are qualified to complete, ensuring compliance with labor laws and policies – thereby avoiding unnecessary problems.
  • A self-service system significantly reduces time-intensive and labor-intensive tasks, empowers employees, and frees up management’s time to focus on strategic goals.

WFM solutions boost competitiveness

The potential of a WFM solution doesn’t end there. Organizations in the business of production are aware that to succeed their brand or product is judged by seven criteria I like to call the Seven Components of Success: cost, quality, delivery, technology, innovation, speed, and customer care. Customers, whether other manufacturing companies or individuals, rate you on these areas. Therefore your performance in these areas will determine outcomes regardless of your brand or reputation. If you consistently underwhelm customers, your organization will suffer.

But here’s the kicker, a WFM system can influence and shape each of these critical operations. For example, if your company supplies components to another manufacturing business – your customers will expect you to respond to their changing business needs quickly. When your customer calls and informs you that they need an additional 1000 units in the next three days, that’s when an optimized WFM system can come to the rescue.

To learn more about the ways manufacturing organizations benefit from workforce management, watch SumTotal‘s Webinar on Workforce Management for Manufacturing.

Why we ought to celebrate Manufacturing Day


Today we celebrate Manufacturing DaySM.

As someone who, up until recently, has spent an entire career in manufacturing, I cannot think of a better way to raise awareness and appreciation of the manufacturing industry than with this annual national event. Manufacturing has afforded me the opportunity to design and produce innovative new products, to see those products being used around the world, to travel to interesting places like the Arctic Circle and Hong Kong, and to meet Lee Iacocca, the former chairman of Chrysler.

Now that I’m with Skillsoft, I may be involved in a completely different way, but I still enjoy and get a kick out of seeing the impact Manufacturing Day has across the country and it, along with the recent growth of the industry, reinforces my belief that manufacturing is heading in the right direction.

So what exactly is Manufacturing Day?

According to the National Association of Manufacturers, Manufacturing Day began in 2012 as “an annual celebration of modern manufacturing. Manufacturers invite students, educators, businesspeople, media and politicians to their facilities in a collective effort to educate visitors about manufacturing careers and improve public perceptions of manufacturing.”

In other words, it is a day meant to inspire the next generation of manufacturers.

A 2015 study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, highlighted that the manufacturing industry is facing a critical shortage of skilled workers. From now until 2025, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled, mainly due to the impending retirement of 2.7 million baby boomers. It has been estimated that 2 million of these jobs will go unfilled due to a shortage of skilled workers to take their place.

The study also makes it clear that to ensure their growth in the years ahead, manufacturing organizations need to attract a steady influx of highly skilled workers. When you consider that manufacturing employs 57% of US scientists and engineers and is the 9th largest economy in the world (, these companies also need to invest in reskilling their existing workers, as most manufacturing jobs now require sophisticated technical and problem-solving skills.

In short, the future success of manufacturing as a whole depends on attracting a steady stream of talented people into this industry, and in expanding the knowledge and skills of the existing workforce.

Participating in Manufacturing Day is a great way to help accomplish this.

In 2012, there were just 240 Manufacturing Day events held in the U.S. In 2016, it had risen to 2,807. Manufacturing Day is inspiring thousands of young people to be the engineers, scientists, technicians and skilled tradespeople that manufacturing organizations will need to successfully close the gaps and thrive in the years ahead. Moreover, it is inspiring more and more manufacturing organizations to open their doors to educate the public through open house tours and events.

So what can you do to celebrate this day?

  • If you are a parent of a middle school or high school student, consider accompanying your child to a local Manufacturing Day event. In addition to the events being held on October 6, there will be additional events held throughout the month. I can speak from personal experience that working in manufacturing offers a very exciting, rewarding and well-paying career for both women and men.
  • If you work for a manufacturing company, the future success of your employer may be at stake. Consider making your employer aware of Manufacturing Day if they are not already aware.
  • If you run a manufacturing company, you definitely want to be ahead of the curve on attracting the skilled workers of the future. Start planning now. The middle and high school students of today will be the highly skilled workers you will need to remain relevant in 2025.

For more information on an event near you, please visit