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Closing the Skills Gap

Gayla C. Hannon

February 03, 2020

Manufacturers of all sizes are struggling with workforce issues. In fact, according to the most recent Industry Pulse Manufacturing Workforce Report, workforce concerns are one of manufacturers’ top three challenges.

For example, 99 percent of manufacturers polled say their top challenge is finding new hires, followed by 92 percent who are concerned about “upskilling” their incumbent workforce, and 84 percent who struggle with onboarding new employees.

With too many open jobs and not enough skilled workers to fill them, what options do manufacturers have?

Get Serious about Training

With the rapid pace of manufacturing change, it’s hard for workers—and their employers—to keep up with what’s required. High performers tend to move quickly to the next opportunity. Indeed, 43 percent of manufacturers report an average of 20 percent or higher turnover. This means a loss of talent and knowledge that’s hard to recover.

Investing in training is the right answer for many companies. Whether it’s an internal, personalized training initiative for specific types of employees or an outsourced program that provides cycles of training for the whole shop throughout the year, a well-defined training program makes a difference. A certain amount of on-the-job training is a must so the learning is practical and not theoretical.

For some companies, hiring a full- or part-time training coordinator is the way to go. When it is someone’s job to ensure a well-trained workforce, training becomes part of the company culture.

Consider an Apprentice Program

Apprentice programs are back. Not only do they provide up-to-date training opportunities for young workers, they also provide a ready labor force for local businesses.

An apprentice program takes time to launch and requires coordination with local schools, teachers, and other community referrals. It also requires setting up your shop for learning, which may involve changes to physical spaces, shifts, and even job descriptions.

Build Career Paths

A lack of long-term growth opportunities is problematic and often leads to decreased loyalty and dissatisfaction, particularly among seasoned workers who are at highly productive levels of performance.

Conversely, employees who regularly develop new skills are much more likely to stay engaged. If a vocational growth path is clearly defined, discussed, and promoted, workers know they have opportunities for new challenges and interests.

If you let your workers’ skills lag or become obsolete, it not only threatens their livelihood, it also threatens yours.

Commit to Change

As with all successful initiatives, closing the skills gap starts at the top. Managing and training your workforce must be a priority. Yet, with so many initiatives competing for funds and time, workforce issues sometimes take a back seat.

How can you justify the time and effort required to improve your workers’ skills? Take a look at your costs related to turnover and temporary help. Try to put a dollar figure to the loss of “embedded knowledge” that seasoned workers take with them. Consider the loss of productivity or safety issues caused by inexperienced or undertrained workers.

You may find that investing in training, apprenticeship, and career pathing will pay off in higher performance, better productivity, and a better competitive position. 

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