New Zealand scientists and businesses alike are expecting a high level of staff absenteeism causing significant business disruption once Omicron spreads quickly in the population (1,2). It might only take a high number of absent staff at one of the supply chain stages, such as the growing, processing or distribution sector, to disrupt the whole supply chain.
Mass absenteeism of staff due to infection with the virus or self-isolation orders have had already a significant impact on businesses and the supply chain overseas, having led to empty supermarket shelves in Australia, for instance (3). About 75% of American consumer packaged goods businesses reportedly experienced an increase in staff absenteeism due to positive COVID-19 tests or exposure events (4). The New Zealand government estimates that 350,000 people could be self-isolating simultaneously during this outbreak (5).
These projections come at a time when New Zealand businesses are already struggling with labor shortages. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, therefore, advised businesses to develop contingency plans for the “big sick” scenario if they have not had already.
In addition, manufacturers should also consider increasing their efficiency to make themselves less vulnerable to potential staff shortages.
New Zealand businesses are currently preparing contingency plans (6) to manage staff shortages caused by a large Omicron outbreak.
A contingency plan outlines what measures the business will undertake if an identified risk happens to minimize disruptions and to ensure continuity of their operations.
The contingency plan may consist of a matrix that identifies all risks concerning COVID-19, assesses these potential risks and evaluates the impact of each risk on the business. It should also list the different actions, including timelines and priorities, the business is going to undertake in case these risks happen as well as the roles responsible to initiate these actions.
Contingency measures that businesses are currently looking at are reducing opening hours and closing offices or plants to manage staff shortages (2), for example.
Suspending non-essential activities, internal working from home orders or redeploying employees to departments with the most urgent need are also being considered (2).
Dividing staff into separate teams to hinder the spread of the virus among the workforce might also be an option to maintain business operations (1).
Enhanced health and safety measures such as mandatory mask-wearing, improved hygiene measures and the use of air quality monitoring and filtration systems are additional measures already being taken by businesses to reduce virus transmission among staff (4).
Some businesses overseas have even started to pool employees to address staff shortages (2).
Business leaders should also explore options on how to make their business generally more efficient and less vulnerable to employee shortages to mitigate those risks.
Most New Zealand manufacturers still rely on paper processes or Excel spreadsheets when it comes to recording data at critical control points (CCP) or monitoring production and compliance processes. This hugely inefficient practice commonly leads to various types of waste, such as more work for operators or unnecessary waiting times along the production line or between departments for example.
Digitalization can reduce these types of waste significantly. By adopting digital lean practices, manufacturers can identify and tackle waste to create a more efficient production floor. Automation and digitization can reduce the time the burdened production workforce needs to perform production and quality checks, for example.
IoT (internet of things)devices can automate the monitoring of critical quality metrics, such as temperature or humidity, substituting manual recordings completely. The remote or inline monitoring devices record the data in real-time and 24/7, sending the recordings immediately to the cloud.
The elimination of manual recording processes lowers costs, saves time and reduces the risks of labor shortages or absenteeism affecting productivity and compliance.
Manufacturing software solutions can help manufacturers digitize their paper-based checks and processes by replacing all paper forms and creating intelligent workflows. This enables manufacturers to accelerate CCP and other checks as well as the dataflow along the production line and between departments.
The use of a smart manufacturing platform can, therefore, make the production floor more efficient and accelerate product realize times by reducing waiting times and eliminating redundant documentation, as all data and processes are easily accessible and centrally stored in the cloud.
Significant labor shortages will continue to be a risk for New Zealand manufacturers, even after the pandemic has come to an end. However, businesses can mitigate this risk by regularly updating their contingency plans, and by changing the way they operate to become more efficient, sustainable, and less vulnerable to absenteeism.
Contact us today to learn how the iMonitor smart manufacturing platform can help you increase efficiency and reduce cost by digitizing your production floor.
(1) Pullar-Strecker. (2022). Stark warning to businesses: prepare now for 'the big sick'. https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/127472723/stark-warning-to-businesses-prepare-now-for-the-big-sick
(2) Pullar-Strecker. (2022). Employers circumspect on preparations for 'the big sick'. https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/127492811/employers-circumspect-on-preparations-for-the-big-sick
(3) Coltman, Karen. (2022). Covid-19: Supermarkets eye Australia’s Omicron troubles. https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/127459845/covid19-supermarkets-eye-australias-omicron-troubles
(4) Picchi, Aimee. (2022). The great American sickout: Omicron is causing "hellacious" worker shortages. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-omicron-workers-out-sick/
(5) Bond, Jordan. (2022). Covid-19: Industries warn of expected shortages due to close contact isolation rules. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/business/460130/covid-19-industries-warn-of-expected-shortages-due-to-close-contact-isolation-rules
(6) Frame, Kirsty. (2022). Supermarkets stockpile and industries crisis plan ahead of Omicron community outbreak. https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/459796/supermarkets-stockpile-and-industries-crisis-plan-ahead-of-omicron-community-outbreak
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