Manufacturing businesses live with the operational imperative of balancing supply with demand – from upstream sources to downstream customer needs. As many manufacturing leaders are nearing the age of retirement, the industry is seeing a huge talent gap, with baby boomers leaving in large numbers and new skillsets and talent needed to keep up with the latest technologies and automation. There is a need right now to promote manufacturing opportunities – with the family-sustaining wages they offer -- and to prepare younger professionals and students to carry manufacturing forward into a prosperous and innovation-driven future.
In our view at CCO, businesses taking on plans for future workforce development and recruitment should engage in a three-phased process:
1. Identify roles and perform a skills assessment
A thorough assessment of the roles needed now into the next several years that help set up the company for long-term success. Work alongside your human resources and operations teams to identify these roles. Once that is completed, conduct a skills assessment. Look at your current critical roles and the skills those people have, and brainstorm how those skills may change.
Ask questions such as: “What will be the impact of new systems, equipment and processes on these skills?” And, “Will the systems become more in demand, obsolete or require enhancements?” This leads to defining the future talent needs of your company.
I also recommend business leaders to conduct a second skills assessment – one on the next generation as they are today. Don’t just focus on technical and analytical skills. Think in terms of corporate values that are currently leveraged to deliver a competitive advantage. A good example of a “soft skills” competency is thinking globally. Many leaders of tomorrow are in jobs that require focus on projects inside a plant, not across an organization. Developing a peer team in global areas such as supply chains with projects to build awareness of the global challenges is a great way to accelerate skills growth.
2. Conduct a skills gap assessment between boomers and millennials
For the next phase, conduct a gap assessment between two generational groups. Many organizations try to create the next generation in the image of the current one—but it’s an unrealistic approach. Think about each skills gap specifically, and be careful to attribute them to a role rather than grouped around a process or business focus like project management or machinery maintenance. It also helps to ask a series of open-ended questions to bring in different perspectives such as, how are your supply chains handling the stresses and challenges presented by COVID-19? In a manufacturing world that’s changing rapidly, trying to clone today’s leaders will not successfully prepare the business for what’s to come. Tomorrow’s leaders must become more resilient and adaptable than they are right now for a company to thrive and grow.
3. Develop a plan
The last phase is to develop a plan that addresses the gaps between the two phases. I recommend a cross-functional group of future leaders be tasked with mapping out the plans. Key programs like mentoring, continuous improvement and training come into play here. Program managers need to be supportive to this next generation of leaders by adapting current programs, as well as contributing their subject matter expertise to provide input to specific gap areas. Often, the future leader groups are comprised solely of operations talent without bringing in programmatic and support roles. Done properly, this last phase creates engagement within an organization that will improve morale and job satisfaction. Make sure this phase is supported with well-planned strategic communication, not only at the project’s completion but right from the start. Avoid silos and create one team.
Mentoring and training are key to accelerating the alignment of talent and skill sets with the needs of the business. Pair an operations assistant (perhaps a new role for your business) with an operations director – so the assistant can be mentored on the job. The idea of pairing a baby boomer with a younger member of your workforce will help build a successions pipeline, which helps keep the knowledge within the company for the long run. The mentorship will support the mentees moving into leadership roles in the future.
Training is so obvious but not always assessed in detail. Do you have the right training courses to address the specific needs identified by the gap assessment? In your training review, remember to engage with all levels of your workforce, especially those at the top. Customized executive courses and team-level courses on a variety of leadership and technical topics are examples of thinking holistically. This opportunity gives every level of the organization to improve and excel in the unknown challenges that lay ahead.
The talent/skills gap that threatens the needed supply of the right workers to meet growing demands of manufacturing represents a risk. But it’s one that can be managed if the executives leading the charge take a thoughtful and aggressive approach to building a bright future for the business and the individuals who will drive it into a profitable and rewarding future.
Bill Currence is the president and founder of Cornerstone Consulting Organization. The veteran-owned company works with clients in a variety of manufacturing industries, such as automotive, healthcare and aerospace.