Manufacturing is undergoing a sea change. North American production jobs are returning as companies weigh the real cost of overseas outsourcing.
The result: private manufacturers are enjoying rising sales in the U.S. and Canada. For 2012, American manufacturing sales are on track to rise about 9.47% as the average net profit margin rises to 6.59% from 4.56% last year and 3.36% in 2010, researcher Sageworks reports. Canada’s manufacturing sector has enjoyed net job growth for seven consecutive months.
While it’s no doubt gratifying for many to see manufacturing jobs returning to North America, the shift comes at a cost. Workers are expected to handle the advanced tooling and techniques that flummoxed some foreign factories.
Therein lies the problem. Sure, modernized North American facilities are more likely to be capable of handing complex jobs, but are workers? Manufacturers can’t afford a skills gap now that work is returning. Here are five ideas for training up your team on the factory floor:
Set up Small Experiments Perhaps you aren’t ready for 3-D printing as a large-scale manufacturing alternative. There must be small projects that could benefit from the additional automation this technology provides? Try out a 3-D printer and set a rotating schedule to give every worker a chance to learn the new technology. You’ll be all the more prepared if management suddenly restructures the line.
Open a Classroom Put a desk in the break room. Add a computer or a shelf of books related to advanced manufacturing techniques. Create a schedule for workers to spend a few minutes studying or browsing materials online. Or, if you have the tools, set up an online classroom so that workers can study at home at their own pace. Either way, it’s important to make the program formal. Doing so sends a message that you’re serious about workers getting trained up in new tools and technology.
Partner with R&D Host a monthly get-together with the internal researchers that are playing with new gadgetry. Ask them to explain what they’re looking into and why. Give plenty of space and time for workers to ask questions. Encourage them to share ideas and criticisms based on their knowledge of the floor.
Develop and Reward Goals Design and post a chart that shows a list of skills you’re looking for the team to acquire. Identify the rewards for achieving expertise and review quarterly. But also mix in surprise gifts to reward especially notable efforts to learn new systems. Doing so demonstrates your seriousness in embracing new techniques but also sends a message that you prefer to keep the talent you have. Tools come and go; high performing workers are much harder to find.
Invite Experts Look outside the company for additional training resources. Perhaps a vendor has been pitching a product you’ve been considering. Take a demonstration at a time when most of your team can attend. Separately, agree to buy a local consultant lunch if he’ll come in and talk about the latest trends and tech other manufacturers are embracing.
Mass outsourcing may have proven to be a bust but there are still plenty of businesses that will return to cheaper options if North American manufacturers fail to provide better tools and technology. Give your team the time and incentives to learn the skills they lack, and they’ll prove themselves worthy. All they need is the opportunity.
John Mills is executive vice president of Business Development at Rideau Recognition Solutions, a global leader in employee rewards and recognition programs designed to motivate and increase engagement and productivity across the workforce.