James Robbins, Accenture managing director, North America, automotive industry & industrial equipment industry
Industryweek 13306 Robbins 5x7

Solving US Manufacturing's New Talent Challenge

Jan. 15, 2013
According to a recent Accenture survey of U.S. manufacturing senior executives from the automotive, industrial products, consumer goods, and electronics and high tech industry, while nearly two-thirds (64%) of respondents ranked skilled trade talent as their No. 1 or No. 2 most-needed worker, almost half (48%) also ranked supervisors as the No. 1 or No. 2 need.

While attracting and retaining skilled workers continues to be a top priority for America’s manufacturers, they also are facing yet another growing talent challenge that must be overcome to re-energize the sector -- a shortage of manufacturing supervisors.

According to a recent Accenture survey of U.S. manufacturing senior executives from the automotive, industrial products, consumer goods, and electronics and high tech industry, while nearly two-thirds (64%) of respondents ranked skilled trade talent as their No. 1 or No. 2 most-needed worker, almost half (48%) also ranked supervisors as the No. 1 or No. 2 need. As large numbers of experienced workers retire, this challenge is expected to become more severe in the years ahead. 

In 2000, U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics research projected that of the 25 million people expected to leave the labor force between 1998 and 2008, 22 million of them mostly would leave to retire. And, after 2008, as more and more baby boomers reached retirement age, the impact of their retirement would continue to grow.1 Today, the issue of finding qualified supervisors magnifies this impact, as many young talented people, who might enter manufacturing and advance into supervisory positions, are seeking careers outside of the sector. Moreover, with the increased pressure for solid knowledge transfer, time is becoming a bigger issue. The learning curve for manufacturing jobs can be steep, requiring that new workers enter the field early enough to become proficient in needed skills before knowledgeable baby boomers leave the labor force.

When searching for supervisors and skilled trade workers, the survey revealed that manufacturers look first to competitors as a hiring source and try to hire their people. The vast majority of manufacturers (89%) hire supervisors from competitors, and eight out of 10 (81%) recruit their skilled trade labor from the competition. The sector also is looking beyond their industries for talent. More than two-thirds (69%) hire supervisors from outside their industries, while 63% of manufacturers also recruit skilled trade talent from outside. 

But, to effectively address the talent challenge, particularly in the case of supervisors, companies will need to rethink and rework their recruitment strategies.

Recharging Recruiting Strategies

There are a number of steps U.S. manufacturers can take to attract and retain much-needed supervisors, as well as obtain and develop a skilled workforce that can be trained and tapped for future supervisor positions. This includes drawing on the experiences of other sectors that have already dealt with this issue.

  • Create a New-Employment Proposition -- To attract, engage and retain qualified supervisors and skilled workers, manufacturers should develop customized talent offerings for each candidate based on the specific needs of the individual.
  • Conduct Online Forums -- To address manufacturing supervisor shortages, companies may want to create online candidate forums. Some high-tech companies, for example, seeking to address a shortage of engineers, have held such forums to find promising candidates. These candidates would have otherwise slipped through the recruitment process because they did not have degrees from the world’s top computer science programs.
  • Leverage Online Recruitment Sites -- To accelerate and better manage the hiring process, hiring managers also should augment their search by visiting online recruitment sites directly when possible, as well as post positions on traditional job boards.
  • Mine Hidden Organization Talent -- Create a database of employee skills in the organization to have a better understanding of their capabilities and potential for future management jobs. In addition, design processes and incentives that encourage people to move to areas of the company where their skills are in demand. This will not only enable the organization to achieve specific goals, but help employees acquire the range of skills needed to take on supervisory responsibilities. It will establish a more stable succession-planning process too.
  • Reinforce the Skills Pipeline -- Manufacturers will need to constantly refine the skills and capabilities of their workforce to reduce the potential for skill gaps and move promising employees closer to filling needed management positions. Also, companies should keep their competency and skill models up to date, and frequently test employees to ensure a current understanding of all the skills and abilities they can bring to the workplace.This shouldinclude the use of advanced analytics, such as predictive modeling to better understand, adjust and predict supervisor and workforce demand, as well as the skills needed to support future growth.

Building a Talent Pipeline for the Future

The need for supervisors and skilled workers is inexorably linked. For U.S. manufacturers to succeed in the 21st century, it will require that they embrace more innovative ways to attract qualified supervisors today, as well as build an internal pipeline of skilled workers, who can become the supervisors of tomorrow. 

According to the Accenture research, one-quarter (25%) of manufacturing executives surveyed believe they have a significant or very significant problem with out-of-date skills in their organization. To produce an ongoing source of supervisors, reducing the skills gap will be critical. Manufacturers that constantly assess and refine the skills and capability needs of their organization, while adopting more creative talent strategies, will be in a much better position to solve the talent shortage challenge and achieve high performance.

James Robbins is automotive industry & industrial equipment industry North American managing director with Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company.

Reference:  1. Monthly Labor Review, July 17, 2000, 'Gauging the labor force effects of retiring baby-boomers,' Arlene Dohm, an economist in the Office of Employment Projections Bureau of Labor Statistics

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