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The Only Manufacturing Skills Shortage That Matters

How does a manufacturing company leader solve the skills gap? By emphasizing the only capability that truly matters.

Research shows that over a million manufacturing jobs sit unfilled right now. That number is expected to increase to over 3 million by the end of this decade. A skills shortage is to blame, say most. “We need CNC operators, robot operators, and mechatronics skills” say all too many manufacturing companies. This is not just an American challenge, but one worldwide. Advances in technology that reduce the impact of high labor costs are the double-edged sword created largely by offshoring in prior decades.

How does a manufacturing company leader solve that problem?

By emphasizing the only capability that truly matters: The willingness and ability to learn.

Whatever technical skills potential employees need today will be soon replaced by different ones. Schools can’t provide job-ready employees when we can’t tell them what jobs will exist in the future.

Manufacturers are the experts in current processes, and are learning what the near future demands. They need job applicants with the willingness and ability to learn, and qualified resources with the capabilities and willingness to teach. Yes, manufacturing has little use for those who can’t read, write or use math. That’s a social problem, not a skills-shortage problem.

Years ago I taught Statistical Process Control adult education through a local university. In one day, attendees with no statistical background understood the why and how of SPC. If they used it the next day, they still have it. If not, it’s a distant memory at best. Computers can do the calculations for us, but employees need to comprehend how the results are generated and what they indicate.

A good educator and trainer can teach employees new skills rapidly. Is full productivity reached on day one? No. But they have demonstrated they can learn new things and that is more valuable to you moving forward.

Relying on existing operators to train new employees is wasteful. Training and doing are different skills. I’ve previously recommended TWI as an excellent method for increasing the skills of existing and new employees.

Manufacturers can’t just complain about shortages. They need to resolve the problem. In San Antonio manufacturers are working with high schools and a local college to create education programs and internships that result in jobs filled. Other cities are taking similar steps, but manufacturing must take the lead.

Your challenge: Worry less about your current position opening, and more about finding someone who is interested in learning and growing. Match them with someone who can actually explain and show, and you’re on your way.

Fill your company with those folks, and the future is unlimited.

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