Making the transition into a management role isn’t easy for any employee. It can be particularly onerous for the production worker who has spent much of his or her time on the shop floor interacting with machines, equipment, and the product on a daily basis. Charged with completing specific tasks and meeting production goals, this shop floor employee isn’t always a natural fit to serve as a team leader, manager, or supervisor.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. In fact, many precasters have successfully transitioned production employees into management roles, and many more will follow that same path in the future. In this second part of a two-part human resources article series, we’ll look at how manufacturers can help pave a clearer, easier path from the shop floor to the management ranks for their workers.

Why hire outsiders?

To Gustavo Gonzalez, president of Safe-T At Work LLC in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., it just makes sense for precasters to tap into their trained, knowledgeable pool of production personnel when filling management positions. After all, these folks are already trained, loyal, and in tune with the corporate culture. They understand the ins and outs of the company’s operations and have a good handle on its inner workings. Why start from scratch by hiring outsiders?

“Why let a good prospect go to waste when you have already invested a lot of time and money in his or her training?” Gonzalez asks, noting that such promotions are often two-way streets that benefit both employer and employee. “Sometimes employees think that they are in dead-end jobs with no opportunities for advancement. When you promote from within, it sends a message to employees to improve themselves because an opportunity may be present at any given time.”

Implementing internal promotions from the shop floor and into management roles also sends the message that the company values its workers, and not just the equipment and machinery that churns out its products. “Most employers fail to realize that equipment, molds, and machinery are not the biggest assets of a company – employees are,” Gonzalez says. “Big plants can have all of the automated equipment in the world, but for the most part, labor is still a way of life.”

That’s not to say every production employee is a good candidate for management. Some lack the necessary personal and people skills, Gonzalez says, while others simply aren’t interested in taking on the added responsibilities of leading a team of people. Having to draw the fine line between friendship (with shop floor buddies, for example) and authority can be another obstacle to success for someone who has spent years on the production floor. “I used to tell my friends who worked for me, ‘in here I am the boss, and outside we are friends,’” Gonzalez remarks.

Assuming that the best production employee will naturally make the best manager is another area where precasters face hurdles when promoting from the shop floor and into the management ranks. “There has always been an unspoken theory in management circles that your best production employee should be the one elevated from the ranks,” Gonzalez points out. “This is not necessarily true, because there is no correlation between production skills and interpersonal skills. Just because someone is excellent at working on the plant floor does not mean that he or she can handle a crisis.”

Instilling responsibility and accountability

It’s no secret that management roles bring with them more responsibility, accountability, and personnel interaction than the typical production position requires. For these reasons, it’s critical that precasters take the time to select the right candidates rather than spending time and money training and cultivating someone who simply isn’t cut out for a management role.

Greg Chase, president of Chase Consulting in West Harwich, Mass., says precasters should start the process by looking at their current shop floor stars, who are often ranked accordingly: A+ players, A players, B players, and so forth. “This is the top echelon, and it’s comprised of employees who need to be challenged,” Chase says. “They should be given special opportunities that keep them interested in staying and working in a precast concrete plant.”

Assuming that those star players are happy in their current roles and uninterested in advancing into other jobs and/or departments can be a costly mistake for companies, particularly in today’s expanding job market. Leave an ambitious production employee hanging, for example, and you could lose him or her to your nearest competitor, or even to an entirely different industry.

Precasters who want to avoid this problem should work to grow well-rounded employees who are cognizant of their growth opportunities. “Come up with a plan to develop those stars beyond just being one of the best hourly workers in the plant,” Chase advises. “Delegate different duties that help employees grow and become more well-rounded, and to eventually take on a management role if they so wish.”

Chase says adopting this mindset of advancement isn’t always easy for precast manufacturers – particularly those that are used to the bucket approach to job duties: office handles office work, managers lead, and shop floor employees make the product. Precasters who effectively bridge the gaps between those buckets are the ones who will come out winners when it comes time to fill open and/or new management positions.

“A lot of manufacturers don’t even realize that there’s a bridge that needs to be crossed from time to time,” Chase says. “The key is to stay alert and always ready to develop your star players. Otherwise they are going to go work someplace else where they are more challenged and where they can reap more rewards.”