The manufacturing frontline: 9 in 10 workers doubt business performance


New research has revealed that ‘deskless’ workers – including those working in the UK’s manufacturing sector – face regular operational issues, compounding doubts about business performance.

Two-thirds (65%) of frontline workers say they observe operational issues monthly or more frequently, yet less than half (45%) see actions taken to address them within this timeframe.

The ‘Feedback from the Field’ report from global technology company SafetyCulture paints a picture of manufacturers being held back by ongoing operational challenges. Its findings, informed by a YouGov UK-wide survey of frontline workers, show that around 9 in 10 (87%) believe that the business they are working in is failing to operate at its full potential or they are unsure about its performance.

According to the new report, many believe the answers to operational issues come directly from those working at the coal face. More than half (55%) of frontline workers say that the best ideas for improvement are derived from within their ranks rather than from leadership (19%). Almost a third of workers (31%) stated that their bosses do not encourage improvements.

In addition to ineffective management which is cited by 42% of frontline workers as a key reason for their business failing to maximise their full potential, respondents also flagged inadequate communication (39%) and training for staff (31%) as barriers. Three in 10 say the last time they had valuable training from their organisation that helped improve their work was a year or more ago. Concerningly, 13% of UK frontline workers feel they have never had any valuable training from their organisation.

The consequences of a lack of training are laid bare in the report. More than half (54%) of those surveyed believe that at least a few of their workplace’s injuries could have been prevented had those involved received better training and work instructions.

Best known for creating the world’s most-used checklist app (iAuditor), SafetyCulture is responding to the challenges identified in the research with the expansion of its all-in-one mobile-first workplace operations platform for frontline workers, leaders and teams.

Beyond its inspections capability, SafetyCulture’s platform now hosts an array of new features for tasks like training and asset management. It includes innovative tools that digitise paper-based forms from a photo and converts work instructions and equipment manuals to enable training on the go. The platform also harnesses the power of AI to create custom-training and inspection templates in minutes.

A business that has enhanced its approach to operations is Bri-Stor Systems. Senior Quality Engineer, Adrian Wood said: “Fitting out vehicles for some of the UK’s biggest commercial fleets is no easy task and we are constantly seeking out opportunities to refine, enhance and improve our processes at Bri-Stor Systems.

“A prime example of this was the challenge of eliminating paper in our business which was costing us over £7k annually. We convert between 7,000 and 8,000 vehicles every year and each vehicle has defined customer specifications, snag sheets, and quality inspections – all historically logged on paper. Every time we undertook a new inbound vehicle inspection, a team member was manually walking that report back to the office to report any damages or issues that needed communicating with the dealer.

“By embracing the latest technology and introducing a cloud-based system we were able to get rid of paper-based processes and save around £12k. The data captured enables us to see what we’re doing well – or not so well – and learn from it. It has instilled a real culture of improvement amongst our workers.”

Commenting on the research findings, Feico Mol, SafetyCulture’s General Manager EMEA said: “Deskless workers are the lifeblood of the UK economy, powering some of our most essential industries like manufacturing. We must listen to them. Our report shows how operational issues are regularly observed by workers on the frontline, but not always addressed. Too often, frontline workers’ views are overlooked and areas that could improve operations such as investment in technology have been focused on office-based workers.”

He added: “The good news is that it’s not all doom and gloom with three in five workers we asked saying that they’re optimistic about the future of their organisation. We share their optimism and with the right tools and communications, manufacturers can harness the latent potential within their frontline teams.”

About the research

* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2057 adults (757 US, 531 Australia, 769 UK). Fieldwork was undertaken between 9th-13th June, 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted by age, gender and location and are representative of US, UK and AU frontline workers (aged 18+). Frontline workers are defined as individuals who must physically show up to their role.

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