Since 2001 the chemical industry workforce has shrank by 25% with a corresponding 20% improvement in unit labor costs.* This aggressive focus on lean operations has enabled us to stay in the game but it has also left the industry facing a staffing and experience shortage. Limited industry hiring has left a vacuum of seasoned staff to replace the “old guard” as they move toward retirement. The safety, environmental, and performance implications are self-evident.
Building an effective workforce under these conditions is not an easy task, but those leaders that tackle this issue head on will be well positioned to take advantage of the industries’ brightening future. Those that don’t are at risk of falling victim to yesterday’s “lean at all costs” medicine. So what can be done? The staffing challenges facing today’s chemical industry should be addressed across four dimensions: Organizational Structure, Staffing Management, Skills & Competency, and Leadership Development.
This is a typical site staffing profile with 80% of the site experience residing in just 37% of the staff. The majority of those individuals will be retiring in the next 3 to 5 years.
The first dimension, Organizational Structure, addresses the logic and clarity of the organizational architecture and roles. As the organization evolves, the informal working relationships that existed in the past are insufficient to organize and align the efforts of a changing, less tenured, workforce. “Unclear job roles and expectations” is consistently a top reason for technical and supervisory staff leaving within their first two years of employment. Implementing a simple, scalable
, and well defined structure is required to ensure new (and existing) employees quickly and clearly understand the part they play in the operation. It reduces confusion and frustration, improves coordination and performance , and ensures the smooth assimilation of new employees. Moreover, it provides the framework required to proactively plan the people requirements of tomorrow.