At the start of the Industrial Revolution, it was a breakthrough to have a plant full of people who each performed one job that eventually resulted in a product. Hundreds of complex products were made each day with each worker spending hours doing the same job. Today’s manufacturing worker is more likely to operate several different parts of the process, never doing the same thing twice in a row. An emerging trend in plants since the 2008 recession has been one plant worker with several roles. However, the recession isn’t the only cause for the rise of the multipurpose plant worker.

Accommodating Automation

In the age of automation, computerized robotic arms and other components compose parts of the manufacturing process that once took a handful of assembly workers. Today, there can be one worker charged with completing the simple tasks that are beyond the robotic arm’s capability. Included in that role is computer technician. As the plant employee closest to the robotic arm, that worker becomes a specialized technician, trained to fix small, routine issues with the machinery, in addition to the assembly work he or she performs. In fact, most workers in an automated plant also take the role of technician or even engineer to help with the machines without slowing production.

Recession-created Positions

As companies have begun hiring workers back after the recession, not everyone has the money to get the plant staff back to 100 percent of what it was pre-recession[1]. To keep the plant open and producing, some of the employees had to take on more than one role in production. Maintenance workers, for example, cover more than one area of the plant. Some are even tasked with equipment maintenance that was once beyond the scope of their job duties. Line workers may also double as equipment maintenance personnel as well. As the economy comes back and more positions are filled, these workers will get a role reduction.

Products of Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing dictates that the plant streamline processes. This could mean getting rid of some jobs, and consolidating others. Employees who find themselves with additional duties as a result of lean manufacturing will find these positions to be permanent, unless management determines that the new job isn’t working.

The multipurpose employee is a small part of a larger evolution of the manufacturing industry. Gone are focuses on single processes. It has been replaced with a consideration of the end production and its impact on the environment at large. It is more of a holistic approach that will naturally lead to more multipurpose jobs as things progress.

Eagle Technologies Group is an industry leader in the design and installation of factory automation systems worldwide.