Investments manufacturers should make to overcome skills gaps

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The industry needs to both rapidly upskill the existing workforce, and create a reliable, sustainable pipeline of well-qualified talent to fill new high-tech manufacturing jobs as they become available. PHOTO courtesy CTMA.

By Mike Deel

The skills needed to work in manufacturing are evolving rapidly, with high-tech capabilities like programming, machine and robotics repair, and quality control becoming increasingly necessary to meet employer needs. 

Workers are not upskilling fast enough to meet demand. As technology continues to play a bigger role in the industry, experts predict as many as 2.1 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2030 due to skills gaps in the workforce. The industry needs to both rapidly upskill the existing workforce, and create a reliable, sustainable pipeline of well-qualified talent to fill new high-tech manufacturing jobs as they become available.

Overcoming these skills gaps is essential for the industry to continue, let alone grow. This requires an unprecedented level of investment in education and workforce development programs. But what are the available avenues for upskilling — and which ones are most effective? Implementing these four strategies today could reap major ROI before the year is over.

1. Internal Training Programs

Funding and building internal training programs can give you direct control over your employees’ skills, how they learn them, and at what pace. The best approach is to develop a roadmap for technology implementation so you can create targeted training programs based on the specific equipment you plan to adopt. Keep in mind that many suppliers offer their own educational materials and hands-on training, which will give you a lot of material to integrate into your internal program.

To reduce resistance to upskilling, build time into your employees’ schedules to learn these new tools. Also, consider motivating employees to learn by providing incentives to grow and adopt new skills. Think outside of the box and take advantage of technologies like augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) to create more in-depth learning experiences — and even attract Gen Z workers who may be on the fence about entering the trades.

2. Reimbursement for Outside Education

If resources for creating internal training programs are limited and you don’t have highly specific upskilling goals, then reimbursing employees for outside education can be an effective way to invest in upskilling. This strategy creates tangible support for employees who want to learn relevant new skills at colleges, trade schools, and vocational schools.

Audit your technology roadmap and identify the specific skills that will be most useful for your workforce. Use this to list the external courses you are willing to reimburse employees for, and then promote this perk to employees so they are aware of the opportunity. You can even incentivize their participation by offering raises and career advancement opportunities to those who complete training. Make it clear that employees have to submit information about all courses they plan to enroll in before requesting reimbursement to ensure the training aligns with your upskilling goals.

3. Community Education Initiatives

Instead of reimbursing staff for classes at trade schools and community colleges, you could go a step further to partner with the institutions. Providing funding, industry experts, or other resources to these programs can allow you to tailor the education to the skills you need at your company while also giving back to the community. Letting employees take these courses could incentivize their participation and upskill more of your workforce at less cost than tuition reimbursement.

What’s more, this approach to upskilling can create a pipeline of talent from the school who become qualified candidates at your facilities upon graduation. In a region with a lot of competition for skilled manufacturing workers, this can give you a competitive advantage in recruitment.

4. Internal Knowledge Library

Many software and SaaS companies offer digital learning platforms that manufacturers can use to build their own in-house knowledge libraries. These cost-effective strategies allow stakeholders to collect and showcase everything from the company’s standard operating procedures, to equipment suppliers’ tutorial videos, to custom content that can immerse employees in learning new skills.

Users can access the information whenever and wherever they want, so they can refer to material as necessary or learn at their own pace. The advantage of this investment is that it can serve multiple functions beyond upskilling your workforce, including expediting the onboarding process for new employees and creating a way to capture institutional knowledge from employees on their way out of the company. Internal knowledge libraries are also useful for cross-training.

Bridging Skills Gaps as an Industry

Skills gaps are major obstacles in the manufacturing sector, and they’re expected to become worse as digital transformation continues to accelerate. Manufacturers need to play a direct role in closing skills gaps by making the necessary investments to level-up the workforce — not only for the sake of their companies but also for the industry as a whole.

Mike Deel is  the District Sales Manager at Master Fluid Solutions.

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