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If you are like me, you have summer on your mind.  This is my favorite time of the year in the Northwest – the rain stops and the sun comes out.  Long days, warm nights.  And family vacation season!

Without good cross training, productivity of your plant may suffer when employees take their vacations. In order to avoid any negative impacts, some companies allow employees to skip their vacations and pay them for the week.  That might seem like a tempting practice as it reduces the burden of having to cross train and increases the take home pay of the employee, but studies show that without taking time off, employees are more likely to make mistakes, increase health issues or burn themselves out.

A cross-trained workforce is the key to covering vacations as it provides the flexibility to move employees between departments. But, cross-training takes time.  And since vacation season is upon us, I put together a list of other suggestions to help manage the vacation season so both the employee and the employer remain healthy:

  • Have an up-to-date skills matrix.  A skills matrix allows at a quick glance to see which positions are the most vulnerable.  Using this matrix, you can approve vacation requests ensuring sufficient coverage for each position. For more information on how to establish a skills matrix, check out this article.
  • Provide employees an opportunity for refresher training so they remember how to do a particular job before they are moved to fill in for a vacationing co-worker.
  • Hire high school or college students on summer break.  Manufacturing jobs are typically better paying jobs than fast food and it is a great way for them to get a taste for your company or industry.
  • Consider an all plant shut-down.  This has the advantage of not having to cover vacations and allows for annual maintenance.  However, it doesn’t provide flexibility for the employee who may want to vacation outside of the shutdown window.
  • Flex the work week.  Perhaps moving to 4-10 hour days or staggering shift start times will give extra time for employees to enjoy with their families.

At the end of the summer, set up some time with your team to discuss what went well and what could be improved upon.  And use the fall and winter to make improvements so next summer, you will be Having Fun in the Sun!

For more practical tips for manufacturing professionals to attract, train and retain your hourly workforce, go to