Plavecsky's Ponderings By Jim Plavecsky
by Jim Plavecsky
August 18th, 2022

A Slowdown is Happening: Cross Train Your People

During customer visits in the last few weeks, the feedback I am getting is that a slowdown is indeed happening. Window fabricators may produce a steady number of units, but new orders do not match daily production levels. Backorders make up the difference. Lead times are coming back down and in some cases are returning to normal. But now, a new concern exists – are we heading toward a significant downturn?

Based on what is happening with new housing starts, inflation and rising interest rates, I would say the answer is yes. Many believe this will be upon us in the fourth quarter through the second quarter of 2023. In that case, fabricators may suddenly find themselves in unfamiliar territory and have to reduce manpower levels. Yes, you heard it right – reducing manpower levels.

If we indeed find ourselves in this situation, it will be a tough decision to trim manpower knowing that the employees sent out the door will be twice as hard and more expensive to replace when business picks up again.

This is where the concept of cross-training pays off. At nearly every window plant I visit, someone complains about how hard it is to find good production workers and how hard it is to keep them. “We are constantly training new people because we are constantly losing them,” complained one plant foreman. This makes it harder to keep up with our quality standards because many of the employees in each department are being trained but not fully tuned into the job. If someone leaves the company, wouldn’t it be nice to fill that position internally with another employee that has already been cross-trained? Yes indeed!

So, the value of cross-training employees has two significant advantages. First, it gives you a pool of employees who can immediately step into a new job function performing at a very high productivity rate while meeting quality standards. In the heat of the busy season, when daily production goals are peaking, this can be a crucial factor.

The second key advantage is simply happier employees who are more motivated to come to work every day. A bonus is this boosts your employees’ sense of self-worth. This means less turnover and more valuable employees poised to move up in the organization as they step into larger roles. Also, when other employees see their peers promoted, it boosts their overall sense of job satisfaction as well and provides them with valuable foresight into their own desired career path.

So, how much extra effort does cross-training take to accomplish? The answer is quite a bit. Does cross training temporarily slow down production rates? You bet it does, which is why it is best accomplished in the off-season or when an industry lowdown exists. Is it worth the extra effort to cross-train employees? The answer is yes, and if we see a significant slowdown in the industry, fabricators who took the time to cross-train employees will have a distinct advantage when business picks back up again!

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