Industry Week1

How Manufacturers Can Create a Talent Pipeline and Close the Post-Pandemic Skills Gap

Aug. 1, 2021

It’s been a rocky year for manufacturing. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains on a level we’ve never seen before in modern times. But thanks to a rebounding economy, manufacturing is recovering quickly with a surge in consumer demand. But despite the optimistic outlook for the future of manufacturing, the industry is still facing a major hurdle to success — a massive skills gap in its labor force.

Why is this happening? A quarter of manufacturing workers are close to retiring and taking valuable knowledge with them. At the same time, younger generations view manufacturing as an old-fashioned trade and often overlook the industry for jobs in more technologically-evolved fields.

The perception that manufacturing jobs are somehow “low tech” and therefore not desirable is far from the truth. Manufacturing is making impressive strides when it comes to digital transformation. Robots, 3D fabrication, AI, and smart factories are now commonplace and driving innovation across the industry. A McKinsey survey discovered that 90% of companies are fully aware of the benefits of technology (like 30-50% less downtime) and are making Industry 4.0 a priority.

They’re even prioritizing workforce collaboration technology with mobile productivity tools like Beekeeper in order to:

  • Reach and connect every manufacturing worker on the shop floor
  • Build a collaborative culture that encourages knowledge sharing
  • Reduce workplace accidents and near misses with easy access to health and safety resources
  • Overcome language barriers within a diverse workforce with instant inline translation
  • Reduce frontline turnover. 64% of frontline workers choose to stay with their employer due to a good company culture, accessible work schedule, and opportunities to learn new skills

As the industry experiences its highest activity level in 37 years, the widening rift between current labor skills and the more technically sophisticated skills that the industry now requires makes it impossible to keep up with the demand.

The manufacturing labor shortage is nothing new. But a new report from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute found that only 63% of manufacturing jobs lost due to the pandemic have been refilled. That means there are 570,000 jobs still open on top of an already-existing, pre-pandemic labor shortage. At this rate, there will be 2.1 million open manufacturing jobs by 2030, costing the industry $1.3 trillion that year alone.

Here are three ways manufacturing companies can create a robust talent pipeline to revitalize their workforce and bridge the skills gap in the industry.

1. Start an Apprenticeship Program

To close the skills gap, some manufacturers are establishing apprenticeship programs within their companies. This means that the company brings in student workers for a set amount of time. They are paid and paired with a mentor for on-the-job training. They also participate in classroom or virtual learning which is provided by either the company, local community college, or a technical school. For companies doing the training in house, a mobile collaboration tool helps students access educational coursework and videos on their phone.

With an apprenticeship program, manufacturers  have the opportunity to train future workers in the skills they need.

Here are a few tips for companies that want to start an apprenticeship program:

  • Identify the areas in in their  facilities that will need skilled workers
  • Incentivize internal participation to find mentors
  • Partner with vocational schools and community colleges to recruit apprentices
  • Create a credentialed program by registering the apprenticeship with the Department of Labor

With training tailored to a company’s needs, an apprenticeship program creates a homegrown talent pool.

2. Invest in Upskilling

Just before the pandemic hit, manufacturers were ready to invest in workforce training to the tune of $26.2 billion. Now is the time to get back on track with that plan. While grooming new recruits through an apprentice program, manufacturers should also invest in upskilling current employees.

Getting additional skills once meant workers had to take night classes. Now, companies can provide virtual training opportunities with a mobile productivity solution that workers can access on their personal device when it best works in their schedule.

A mobile solution allows manufacturers to:

  • Create different upskilling tracks depending on the skills needed in the factory of the future
  • Curate a combination of video courses and reading material for each track
  • Weave in wearable technology, like AR glasses, into the training. This is an innovative and efficient way to create on-the-job training so employees learn as they work

3. Connect Workers and Create a Culture of Knowledge Sharing

A big contributor to the skills gap is that institutional knowledge and experience is often lost when workers leave the company.. Investing in a mobile-first digital solution can help eliminate that problem by creating a shared knowledge base for employees.

Manufacturing companies are often siloed work environments. Allowing workers to communicate through a mobile collaboration platform with features like voice calling, direct messaging, group messaging and chats through a platform creates channels for information exchange and collaboration. These peer-to-peer connections nurture organic growth. Workers can learn from one another by passing valuable know-how from one person to the next.

A cloud-based mobile platform also stores this communication and knowledge, creating a single source of information that every worker can reference as needed. This builds institutional knowledge so information can stay even when workers retire or leave.

Designing strategies to create a multi-channel talent pipeline is an effective way to build up a workforce. An added bonus? Retention will increase, too. As employees expand their skill sets they’ll have more opportunities to move up the ladder and increase their earning potential, both of which reduce turnover.

It’s an exciting time for manufacturing. Technology and IoT are propelling the industry into new directions and creating a variety of jobs in a field where professional growth was once stagnant. Now is the time for companies to invest in building a skilled workforce for their own long term success and a resilient future for the manufacturing industry.

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