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8 Ways to Get the Most from Low-Wage Employees

By Intertek Alchemy   |   

Even as wages increase to hire and retain talent, the current federal minimum wage remains at  $7.25. Few experts would ever suggest a wage rate this low for manufacturing employees (ourselves included). But as long as that rate remains, it acts as a national starting point for some manufacturing employees. 

Many manufacturers frequently compete for employees through signing and referral bonuses, as well as additional perks. But what about the companies that can’t afford this approach?

Labor shortages and rising costs put pressure on manufacturers to get maximum job performance from low-wage workers every hour and every shift. Here are eight ideas for getting the most out of your low-wage workers.

  1. Deliver Effective Training
    Ensure your low-wage employees receive the best, most consistent, and most effective training possible. Cross-training offers an opportunity to keep employees interested and engaged. It provides an opportunity for growth and a means of earning more pay. Cross-training will also introduce employees to more workers, helping to create relationships that might make them want to stay on the job.

    Don’t rely on harried supervisors or low-wage peers to bear the brunt of training. How confident can we be that co-workers, often with little experience themselves, are providing accurate coaching? Even worse, photocopied training manuals and hour-long training videos don’t hold the attention of new hires, and they don’t stand a chance at answering questions. A better option is to leverage mobile on-the-job training technologies built specifically for the task of manufacturing cross-training.

    Computer-based systems can present tailored short-burst, job-specific skills training, as well as workplace safety and HR-directed modules, in a highly engaging, interactive medium. Embedded learning plans based on roles help get new hires productive on the floor quickly. Effectively training your new employees before assigning them vital tasks will give them confidence, improving their job satisfaction and ultimately reducing turnover.

  1. Promote a Fun Work Environment
    Foster happy employees with an upbeat, enjoyable workplace in which your staff works hard but still has a good time. A positive, enjoyable work environment helps motivate team members and influences them to focus on excellence, which translates to better quality in production.
  1. Offer Real Opportunities for Advancement
    Low-wage workers are better engaged and more likely to perform at a high level when they see real avenues for advancement. Connect the dots for team members between the jobs they currently have and team leader, supervisory, or even management opportunities within the company. Encourage them to continue their education. Career paths within your operation should be clear, attainable by your frontline workers, and list necessary experience, skill sets, and other important qualities. Making examples of outstanding team members through promotion within the company will inspire all employees to work toward their own advancement.

    Again, leverage technology to make your efforts more effective and visible. There are skills management tools that streamline the process to progression paths. Be sure to vet the tool you select. You’ll want it to be proven to be effective in facilities similar to yours.

  1. Communicate Frequently
    Nothing discourages frontline workers more than being kept in the dark, especially when changes are forthcoming. Communicate regularly with each team member, both individually and in small groups. Institute daily shift huddles to talk about operational goals, share news, discuss business developments, and keep them apprised of imminent changes. Remember the “fun workplace” tip above and implement frequent, friendly communication forums so workers feel valued and will willingly share their own insights, concerns, and ideas.
  1. Make Them Feel Like Key Players
    When low-wage workers are kept at arm’s length, they think of themselves as providing little direct value to the company, and subsequently they treat their duties as just another job.

    Upgrade minimum-wage employee attitudes by treating them as part of something bigger and more important—even special. Try to instill a feeling that they are part of an exceptional group working for an exceptional operation. Remind them frequently about what makes your business special and about their important role in making and keeping it special. Treat them like key contributors they are to the company’s future success. And, as mentioned above, give them real opportunities for advancement. You can help them along with leadership development training that teaches the nuance of soft skills.


  1. Offer Public Recognition—and Private Coaching
    Praise employees frequently in front of their peers. Make it part of the enjoyable workplace culture by spreading the praise openly. Don’t assume team members realize that you appreciate their hard work. Say it. Often. Such public recognition can really boost an employee’s desire to master the job and become a leader.

    Make a particular effort to find positives to praise in every team member. Your encouragement might turn a mediocre worker into a star. And remember, it’s just as important to correct errors in private. Everyone makes mistakes, and workers will appreciate not being humiliated in front of others.

  1. Give Out Tangible Rewards
    Recognize outstanding employees by giving them inexpensive rewards such as “champion” buttons or badges, certificates, and posted “employee of the month (or week)” posters in break areas. Reserve a special parking space for outstanding employees and let awardees park there for the duration of their recognition. A little inspired competition will induce recognized team members to keep up the good work while encouraging their teammates to step it up.
  1. Show Employees a Little Flexibility
    Motivate low-wage workers by giving them limited autonomy in scheduling. If a particular team member consistently expresses the desire for a certain shift off, try to accommodate that request as much as possible. Allow team members to choose their specific duties within reason. By giving employees the opportunity to make choices, you demonstrate that you appreciate them as key contributors and that you value their own job perceptions and decision-making skills.

With these and similar no-cost or minimal-cost efforts, manufacturers can motivate minimum-wage workers and drive their improved performance straight to the bottom line. Contact Intertek Alchemy to learn more about training that will help keep your employees on the job and engaged.

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