Leveraging Your Reliability Strategy to Overcome HR Challenges in Manufacturing

If you were to interview 100 leaders of maintenance and reliability in manufacturing, they would all tell you that one of their biggest problems today is the staffing shortage. Companies far and wide are having trouble finding the skilled workers they need to fill positions. If you are an employee this is a good problem to have as there are lots of options, as an employer it’s something that takes you away from your everyday job and puts strain on the maintenance and reliability team.

Let’s explore how we might leverage the capabilities of our maintenance process to offset some of the challenges in the current labor market. We will look at these three categories:

  • Optimize the Need
  • Facilitate the Inflow
  • Slow the Outflow

Optimize the Need

When looking for skilled people to staff your organization, the first question should be, “Are we leveraging the people we have in the most efficient manner?” My experience has been that the size and complexity of a maintenance process tend to easily grow over many years, often overreacting to the crisis of the moment, with limited energy being expended towards retraction or optimization of the program.

What are the crucial aspects of maintaining a high-functioning maintenance team while efficiently utilizing available resources? Let's delve into these points further:

1. Removing Non-Value-Added Tasks:

  • Regular Review Process: Implement a systematic review process for proactive maintenance tasks. Regularly challenge the necessity of each task and assess its value. If a task doesn’t demonstrate clear value, consider its removal or modification.
  • Data-Driven Decision Making: Base decisions on data collected over time. If a proactive task consistently fails to yield valuable results, it might be worth revising or eliminating. Data analytics can provide insights into the effectiveness of each task.

2. Leveraging Operators:

  • Clear Communication: Clearly communicate expectations to operators regarding their role in maintenance tasks. Provide formal training and support for them to carry out specific tasks. Establish open communication channels to ensure they report issues promptly.
  • Recognition and Feedback: Recognize and appreciate the efforts of operators. Positive reinforcement encourages their active participation. Additionally, provide feedback on the issues they report, and the actions taken, demonstrating the value of their contributions.

3. Utilizing Technology for Lead Time:

  • Strategic Implementation: Integrate predictive maintenance technologies strategically. Identify critical assets where early detection of issues is vital. Utilize predictive analytics to forecast potential failures, allowing for planned maintenance activities.
  • Training and Expertise: Ensure your team is well-trained in using these technologies. Skilled technicians can interpret data accurately, providing the lead time needed for proactive decision-making. If you need help with training, Allied Reliability is here. Access our training sessions, here.
  • Continuous Improvement: Regularly assess the effectiveness of condition monitoring strategies. As technology evolves, stay updated with the latest advancements to enhance the lead time and accuracy of failure predictions.

In summary, by reassessing the necessity of tasks, involving operators effectively, and leveraging technology for predictive insights, maintenance teams can optimize their processes, reduce downtime, and make the most efficient use of their skilled workforce. This approach not only addresses the immediate challenges posed by the shortage of skilled resources but also fosters a culture of continuous improvement within the organization.

Facilitate the Inflow

Attrition is a way of life. People will come and go, that is the natural order of things. The question we need to ask ourselves is “are we doing all we can to setup these new employees for success?” Does our current environment fully enable their success now, and into the future. We need to adopt a mantra of “every day I learn something new” ….if this is accurate, how do we institutionalize those things that I have learned with others in similar role….raising the skill and knowledge of the organization along with the individual.

  1. Training Programs Tied to Failure Modes: When we design our proactive reliability-centered maintenance strategies, we should be taking a failure modes-based approach: describe the asset, how does it fail, what is the impact of that failure and then treat the high impact failures. If we have this same information available for proactive strategy design, why not also use it to design our training programs. What specific failures are likely and painful to experience, how can we detect or prevent them from occurring. Couple this with recent failure data, and we can now design a training intervention pointed at immediate results rather than accepted best practices.
  2. Formal and Structured Onboarding: It doesn’t take much, but it makes all the difference in the world. I am sure that we can all accept the notion that there is a better way to train someone than to tell them to “follow Lloyd around for 3 months”. Some formal structure with objectives and expectations of learning is necessary to ensure success. In addition to the traditional classroom PowerPoint exercise, or vendor lead discussions, consider a qualification card with finite tasks listed (see discussion on common failure modes above) where each new employee is expected to work through this list, with resources available for training and support, with the expectation of demonstrating capability for each line item along the way.

    The military (which by design must constantly overcome the highest attrition rate of any organization in the world) refers to this method as Tell-Show-Do. Simply put, Tell: Explain the task verbally. Show: Perform the task with the trainee observing. Do: Expect the trainee to perform the task themselves with oversight and feedback.
  3. Culture of Continuous Learning: Training is just not for the new employees. When an error is made in execution, I would propose it is for one simple reason, it was that person’s turn to perform the task. I don’t believe it is much more complicated than that. We are all products of the same environment, with similar experiences and training being provided to us. We need to establish continual learning as a habit, as little as one structured discussion per week talking about one idea, ideally tied to a recent problem can change the world.

Slow the Outflow

Most satisfying in addressing the skilled labor shortage will be the effort you expend towards keeping the employees you already have. My experience shows that this is not best accomplished through simple monetary awards, but rather by building an environment of collaboration, setting goals, being visible and vocal with progress, and celebrating the successes accomplished by the team.

I often explain to people this simple idea, that when you meet a new person in a public setting, the first question you will be asked is your name, the second will be “what do you do for a living”? If we want to retain skilled employees, let’s give them a great story that they can tell, one filled with pride of accomplishment.

  1. Measures of Success and Engagement: One of the most important things we can do to ensure engaged and satisfied employees is to make them part of the fight. Make it a habit to discuss the measures of success that pertain directly to them and that they can affect and engage them in becoming part of the solution. Replace telling them what to do, with “how can we address this problem?” This conversation needs to happen often and with specific details.

    In a perfect world, every employee would be a part of some simple one-page scorecard of metrics that they can take ownership of and understand their role in making improvements. Very important that we get to the point where they can articulate the past, present, and future of these metrics. Past – where did we come from and developing a sense of pride in how far we have progressed. Present – where we are today. Future – what are our goals and where are we going…are we good enough yet, or do we have a big gap to close?
  2. Empowerment and Accountability: Let’s start by accepting the fact that accountability is not a bad word, in fact it is a necessary tension to keep satisfied employees. Accountability does not mean screaming, yelling, and threatening, but rather consistent feedback and encouragement at a predictable cadence. Keeping people on the right path and providing the support they need to accomplish their goals. We have two choices to drive satisfaction in our employees.
    • Option A: Insist that they carry out a task and fill in a worksheet by the end of their shift on Thursday. Compliance.
    • Option B: Present them with a challenge, and provide them with the resources, support, and authority necessary to solve that problem on their own. Empowerment.

We of course should work towards option B as this creates a culture where people want to participate and succeed, rather than looking for another opportunity that will provide this to them.


These are challenging times in the employee marketplace no doubt, but by leveraging the ideas here, you will be able to leverage your reliability practices as a competitive advantage, while providing bottom line results to your organization. A win on both fronts.

If you are still struggling with staffing shortages, Allied Reliability also offers recruiting and staffing services. Allied Reliability doesn’t just find you candidates to interview. We use our industry experience, technology, and extensive database to help streamline industrial recruitment for our partners. Allied provides three key services to our clients: direct placement, contract, and project-based hires. When your team is having a hard time deciding between our candidates, we've done our job well.

To find out more information or to talk to an expert, visit here.

About the Author

Mike Gehloff

Mike Gehloff

Mike Gehloff has worked in the maintenance and reliability discipline for over 30 years with a wide range of experience both as a practitioner and a consultant. His area of expertise lies within the social sciences related to the discipline, particularly in the work control (maintenance planning and scheduling), operator care, and management systems areas.

Mike has worked extensively in the steel industry and held several corporate and division-level reliability positions. He also has experience in the mining, food and beverage, oil and gas, and power generation industries with a proven track record of delivering results. Mike is particularly effective in team-based environments where frontline associates are empowered to make a change in their organization. Breaking down barriers to communication, motivation, and a set of common goals for the organization are all areas that represent a professional passion for Mike.

Mike graduated from Eckerd College. He is a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP), as well as a Certified Plant Maintenance Manager (CPMM). Mike is also a Six Sigma Black Belt and has earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Florida. Mike is always open to adventure and has an extensive international travel resume.

Connect with Mike on LinkedIn.


Allied Reliability provides asset management consulting and predictive maintenance solutions across the lifecycle of your production assets to deliver required throughput at lowest operating cost while managing asset risk. We do this by partnering with our clients, applying our proven asset management methodology, and leveraging decades of practitioner experience across more verticals than any other provider. Our asset management solutions include Consulting & Training, Condition-based Maintenance, Industrial Staffing, Electrical Services, and Machine Reliability.

Subscribe to our Blog

Receive the latest insights on reliability, maintenance, and asset management best practices.