The skills gap gets plenty of media attention—and it should since it's one of the fundamental challenges U.S. manufacturers face. But a new study by Tooling U-SME uncovers another gap that industry leaders should be aware of: an "execution gap" related to training.
The study, titled "Manufacturing Insights Report: Winning Practices of World-Class Companies," reports that there's a big difference between the importance manufacturing executives place on world-class training and the support they give to actually implementing it. In other words, when it comes to training, their money isn't always where their mouth is.
At the recent International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, IndustryWeek talked with Jeannine Kunz, managing director of workforce and education at Tooling U-SME, about the study and its implications.
IndustryWeek: Let's talk about this training execution gap. According to your study, most manufacturing executives understand how important it is to have world-class training, yet overall there's low support for implementing it. Why?
Jeannine Kunz: I think it comes down to two things. One, those who are responsible for getting the training programs in place—whether it's the plant manager, or whoever it is that wants it to happen—it's important that they tie it to an ROI or a business objective. I think many don't realize how important this is, because a lot of executives will look at a [prospective] training program and reject it if they don't see that direct tie-in.
The other part is simply that it's hard, and not everyone's doing it correctly. Sometimes you'll implement a program and you won't get the return you expected because you didn't specify clearly enough at the outset what you were looking for as far as making the improvement toward those business objectives.
How to Fix It
IW: How does this execution gap hurt manufacturing companies? Can you cite any examples?
Kunz: One example that we saw was a company that didn't have a succession plan in place, and then they lost some key people to retirement, and all of a sudden they found themselves in a position where they couldn't take a million-dollar order because they didn't have enough people who were capable of doing the work.
Another example was a big chemical processing company that wanted to expand because the demand was there, but they couldn't open up any new plants because they didn't have the right people with the right skills to do it, and they didn't think they could get them.
It's important to make sure you're utilizing your training dollars effectively and applying a structured framework to it.
—Jeannine Kunz, Tooling U-SME
IW: What do you think is the solution to this execution gap? How can it be fixed?
Kunz: Manufacturers simply need to invest more in their people. They're investing in other things: new facilities, new equipment, new materials. But with all of that, if they don't invest in their people and train them at a high level—and our study shows that the manufacturing industry is lagging behind other industries in this—then they'll never be able to optimize what they get out of those other investments.
The other key thing is it's important to make sure you're utilizing your training dollars effectively and applying a structured framework to it. Obviously instructor-led training is important, but it's expensive; that's why prior-learning assessments can help. It doesn't make sense to have people go through a training program for something they've already learned; they can test out of it. That way, you can minimize the number of people you're pulling off the floor for training. And online training can help as well. There are lots of ways to be efficient and get the most out of your training dollars.