You’ve got to adapt!

Being adaptable in the face of change and adversity is smart for you and your business

By Kara Finney 

More than ever, the feeling is that ongoing challenges are becoming not just part of every day’s events but are becoming defined as ‘just another day.’ Many folks in industry are at the point of ‘how do we survive this one?’ Those experiencing this sense of never-ending pressure and being overwhelmed all the time may find comfort in knowing that they are not alone in facing these challenges. 

Leaders in every sector are dealing with a level of change and unknown that is, and can be, overwhelming. These challenges include:

Remote working (or not):The constant deluge of hiring competition where it appears that every other sector can offer work-from-home, when in manufacturing, it is impossible for most positions to be offered as remote-work opportunities. According to Statistics Canada in their 2021 report, Working from home in Canada: What have we learned so far?, 60 per cent of jobs in Canada cannot be done from home. Even though that number may be surprising from the constant conversation of working from home, it does tell you that it is real. Still, that 40 per cent of positions in Canada are working remotely at least part-time provides additional competition for your hiring process.

Workforce shortages:Beyond the constant competition for hiring people, there simply appears to be not enough people available to hire. The increasingly common question of ‘Where did everyone go?’ tells of an unfortunate reality that creates ongoing challenges. According to a report from CBC News, Where have all the workers gone? Don’t blame COVID, “While those 55 and older have been steadily exiting the Canadian workforce — an exodus that some economists believe was accelerated by the pandemic, as many older workers opted for early retirement — there simply aren’t enough younger workers to replace them. In fact, participation in the workforce among those aged 25-54 approached 88 per cent in May, up more than one percentage point from February 2020, before the pandemic had taken hold in Canada.” 

Constant supply chain challenges: This is an ongoing and exhausting conversation for many, and it isn’t looking much better in the short term. According to Statistics Canada’s Analysis on supply chain challenges and conditions in Canada, first quarter 2023, “among businesses that expected maintaining inventory levels to be a challenge over the next three months, over two-fifths (45.5 per cent) expected these difficulties to continue for six months or more, a significant decrease from the previous quarter (56.3 per cent). Businesses in…manufacturing (58.2 per cent) were most likely to expect maintaining inventory levels to be a challenge for six months or more.”

Moreover, there is the growing crisis in managing or supporting both the team and possibly your own increasing concern for mental health. Not to mention the additional stress for parents that have a sick child at home with nowhere to go. 

While it may not seem helpful to have someone give you statistics to prove what you’re seeing everyday, it might help validate your perspective. You know what it is and how hard it is, but with that said, it sometimes helps for someone to say to you, ‘Yes, you’re right. It is hard.’

It isn’t like the challenges that we dealt with prior to the start of the pandemic have gone away – safety, productivity, quality, and team dynamics. Layer all of these things together, and the real picture of the day-to-day in manufacturing becomes overwhelming. 

What does working smarter look like in this new world? How do we move forward?

The word that comes to mind is adaptability. In fact, adaptability is a skill that can be learned and is a part of the Government of Canada’s Skills for Success framework. Their definition of adaptability is showing openness to change and altering behaviours to work effectively when faced with new information or a changing situation or environment. While it won’t reduce the number of changes coming, adapting to change allows for a response that will provide for a calm and appropriately responsive workforce.

What does adaptability look like? It’s defined through several sub-skills, including:

– Self-management

– Innovation

– Setting goals

– Exercising restraint

– Exhibiting courage

– Assessing costs, benefits, and consequences

– Being positive

This list, I find, gives a picture of what adaptability looks like. All of these can be self-assessed and training responses provided. Working together to build adaptability within ourselves, our teams, and our workplaces is the starting point for moving forward in the best way possible.

It is also something that becomes important when hiring. Many companies or HR departments have focused on teamwork, problem solving, and communication, and all of those are important when hiring for a team. But, if a person is not able to adapt to change – to be resilient – and begins to break down the team with the inability to function within the stress, it puts pressure on the whole team. However, if you have someone who can be calm, ask questions, assess their own ideas without bias, and continue positivity throughout, it will support the forward momentum for everyone. 

Adaptability provides increased resilience and the opportunity for the day to feel a bit more manageable. There will still be everything going on around us, but being more adaptable will give each of us something on which to build a plan for ourselves, our teams, and our workplaces.

Kara Finney is Chief Executive Officer of three partnering organizations: Workplace Education Manitoba (WEM), Essential Skills Manitoba (ESM), and Workplace Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (WPLAR) – organizations that directly support both Skills for Success and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) across Manitoba and Canada. With extensive experience in manufacturing and supply chain, Kara understands the benefits and opportunities of integrating Skills for Success and RPL into the workplace and beyond.