October 13, 2017
As part of our month-long celebration of Manufacturing Day, we continue our salute to manufacturers and their hard work in forging the industry of tomorrow. The shortage of right-skilled workers continues to be a major obstacle. In this article we examine suggestions for building the new workforce engine.
Training the next generation of workers is more critical than ever
Training the next generation workforce must become a high priority for manufacturers. For nearly a decade, retiring baby boomers, the resulting skills gap, and shortages of skilled workers have been topics of debate. While academia, government agencies, trade associations, and technology vendors have all made some strides toward easing the pain, the issues still linger. It’s time to tackle the problem, devoting resources to the issues and making a commitment. Here are some tips for getting started.
- Manufacturers know best. No other organization or partner can envision the ideal workforce for the next generation of manufacturers. While academia, vendors, and suppliers may have their own visions of ideal job candidates, those outsiders, in actuality, only can guess at the magic blend of creativity, technical training, team skills, learning capabilities, and analytical aptitude that will be critical in manufacturing plants tomorrow. Manufacturers would have the best grasp of the priority hard and soft skills needed.
- Credibility counts.
One of the biggest hurdles in recruiting a modern workforce is the false perception that manufacturing plants are dangerous, dirty, scary places to work with little stability and career opportunities. The public, particularly recent graduates, is skeptical about the manufacturing’s future. Organizations, like NAM, can invest heavily in changing perceptions, but the local plants, ultimately, have to back up the claims and provide proof that their organization has staying power and will provide reliable employment and benefits to candidates. No one else can do that.
- Training transcends a single event.
The current rapid rate of change means that the workforce must continue learning, adapting, and embracing innovation, long after the candidate leaves a college, apprenticeship program, or vocational school. The manufacturer must continue to offer education opportunities, showing workers benefits of learning and building a company culture that allows time for classes, workshops, and lunch and learn programs and rewards continuing education with growth opportunities.
- Apprenticeship and mentor programs work.
These classic programs which made the experienced worker the teacher and role model were successful for generations. They can be again. On-site learning programs feature hands-on applications with realistic learning opportunities specific to the industry and plant, rather than text book generic situations which may be lack relevance. Manufacturers in highly specialized industries will seldom find third party educational resources with relevant knowledge. They, therefore, need to build their own.
- Building loyalty.
Providing the training and ongoing education helps to let personnel know they are valued and the manufacturer is committed to them. Investing time and effort into education demonstrates a supportive environment and helps build loyalty among the workforce. Individuals will see that the organization is vested in their growth and will be more likely to have a positive view of future potential, reducing employing churn.
- Education is a two-way street.
When the manufacturer takes ownership of directly training and nurturing workforce candidates, offering education to people with a wide variety of existing skill sets, the manufacturer can also learn. Some fresh new ideas may come into the organization this way, expanding the collective mindset and challenging assumptions. Teachers often learn from students.
- Look inward.
The current skills gap issue is critical for most manufacturers. Plants needs skilled workers who can step in quickly and help move the organization in the digital era. Reeducating and up-skilling the current workforce may be the most expedient and practical way to make quick gains. Long term education programs which include involving more girls in STEM courses, encouraging vocational programs, and emphasizing engineering and IT programs to high school students are valuable, but they will take time. Manufacturers needs short-term solutions too.
- Partnerships play a part.
Manufacturers should still continue to partner with organizations, vendors, and suppliers who are willing to help and can offer a resources such as training materials, class speakers, and onsite workshops. Vendors often understand that they need to provide value to their customers and are willing to share the responsibility of training the workforce. As a case in point, Infor has created the Education Alliance Program which partners with institutions of higher learning to provide software, training, and other resources to help educate students on best practices and software applications.
The Education Alliance Program also fosters dialogue between institutions and development teams, helping businesses discover new approaches to solving problems. The program offers a practical and scalable model designed to help participating institutions hire and retain great faculty, and drive excellence in curriculum development, and graduate more students with the types of skills manufacturers need today.
Manufacturers can turn to support from education programs, like Infor EAP and organizations like NAM, who are willing to collaborate on training programs . Manufacturers can start the ball rolling by identifying new skills needed, existing training programs and nee ones needed. Then, they must follow through with continuous learning and growth opportunities for workers willing to invest time in learning and embracing change. Education should be continuous, evolving at the pace of change. It’s a critical part of remaining relevant.