The skills gap is an elusive paradox that drives experts into starkly opposing corners. They either believe it exists or claim it to be a myth. At the end of the day, the numbers speak for themselves.
- Out of 3.5 million new jobs, 2 million will go unfilled by 2025.
- More than 2.6 million baby boomers are expected to retire in the next 10 years.
- It takes 93 days to fill a role, a figure anticipated to grow.
- The skills gap costs US companies $160 billion every year.
The Jobs Are There, but Where Are the People to Fill and Hold These Positions?
Rather than wasting time slinging the blame for the skills gap from the public to the private sector and back again, it’s much more worthwhile to get proactive and do something about it. After all, change doesn’t come from inertia.
Undeterred by the looming crisis, many companies still find themselves hesitating to leap forward and make the transformation into becoming factories of the future. Citing budgetary concerns and a lack of training software, they prefer to keep things the way they are from fear of taking two steps forward and one step back.
Is the future of work in manufacturing at risk? Despite the alarming statistics, all hope is not lost. With the right training, solving the widening skills gap is achievable, efficient, and most importantly, the way of the future.
While there are some who knock the skills gap phenomena for being nothing else than a zombie idea that refuses to be extinguished by evidence, the real issue is that hiring the perfect employee is impossible. Instead, companies need to be striving to create the perfect candidate through training. Let’s have a look at the five major ways training can eliminate the skills gap.
No. 1 - By Dismantling Misconceptions
Young people aren’t the ones behind the misconception that manufacturing is a dirty and low-paying job. Their parents are responsible for propagating the tall tale.
According to a survey performed by SME, 25 percent of parents view manufacturing as a low-paying career, while more than 20 percent see it as an “outdated and/or dirty work environment.”
While this representation may have held some truth in the past, it’s inaccurate in today’s 21st century world. In-between the Internet of Things (IoT) and the unceasing developments in robotics, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and 3D printing—the manufacturing industry is at the forefront of innovation and the opportunities are promising.
Standing at $21.93, the 2019 average hourly salary of an employee in manufacturing is nowhere near being low-paying by any means! Let’s also not forget the many benefits commonly enjoyed by manufacturing workers, such as insurance, paid leave, and a pension plan.
The development of training programs geared towards educating young people and parents alike on the benefits of a career in manufacturing is, therefore, the way forward.
No. 2 - By Being Recurrent, Engaging, & Mobile
Modern-day manufacturing employers need to be working smarter, not harder. There’s no sense spending hundreds of hours and resources creating paperwork instructions that are overlooked by operators on the shop floor.
It’s now both essential and unavoidable to convert the knowledge of skilled operators into digital format. But just capturing this tribal knowledge isn’t enough. It’s equally as vital to capitalize on the fact that the days of sitting quietly in a classroom listening to a professor talk away for hours on end are coming to an end.
Software taps right into the inherent fact that each person learns with their eyes by offering the opportunity to create visual work instructions that are easy to use and understand.
Forget flipping through lengthy training materials or scrambling when these get lost, switching to electronic work instructions is one of the best ways to solve the skills gap.
Digital instructions also provide the added functionality of being available on many devices, including tablets. The resulting automatically generated reports that are even more valuable as they provide valuable insight into areas in need of improvement.
No. 3 - By Focusing on Apprenticeships
Today’s students are tomorrow’s manufacturers. In conjunction with dismantling stereotypes, it’s also important to focus on providing students with the right information from the start. This way, future thought leaders can make the most informed career decisions.
Just as manufacturing jobs are no longer dirty and unpaying, the same goes for the accepted learning style.
While students who prefer to learn by reading or listening tend to continue onto higher levels of education, those who prefer learning by doing are more likely to quit school early. Yet, while we’re all visual learners by nature, learning by doing remains the universally preferred learning style.
Providing apprenticeships is a great way to capture talent that might otherwise be lost. It can be especially beneficial if geared towards students most likely to drop out. Rather than failing these students, re-orienting the strategy can instead have for effect to fill vacant positions and further decrease the country’s unemployment rate.
Adequate training can, therefore, offer different pathways and not just skills for the initial job.
No. 4 - By Expanding Soft Skills
The manufacturing industry is typically associated with hard skills. As important as these are to get the job done, the focus is now increasingly being shifted onto soft skills.
What are soft skills exactly? Think of interpersonal skills that contribute towards a more harmonious workplace and you have yourself soft skills. Unlike hard or technical skills, which can be quantified and measured, soft skills focus instead on communication, adaptability, teamwork, and punctuality. But just because they’re called “soft” doesn’t mean they’re any less important. With more employers placing the emphasis on these, the question then arises: can soft skills be taught?
In short, they can’t. But, they can most certainly be learned and refined. While you look for the necessary soft skills in the interview process, it can be just as beneficial to offer guidance instead. Since soft skills aren’t teachable, you need to instead guide your employees to want to learn these skills through workplace team building exercises, communication skills activities, etc.
No. 5 - By Focusing on Reskilling
Another popular misconception is that you can’t teach a dog new tricks. This is false. The problem is that with the advent of new technologies and the obsoleteness of traditional ways of performing tasks, the amount of skilled workers to fill new positions simply isn’t high enough to meet the demand.
As we already covered, it takes 93 days to fill a position and this amount is only on the rise. Rather than focusing on filling a position with an impossibly long list of requirements, past experiences, and unattainable skills, going back to basics is often just as effective—if not superior.
Manufacturing companies are better served spending valuable resources helping and working with their existing workforce instead. Teaching existing employees new skills is also advantageous because it boosts morale and productivity by inspiring people to want to learn more.
More importantly, retraining doesn’t have to be lengthy or expensive. With the use of work instructions, retraining is as simple as showing employees how to use the software one time. Those same instructions are then reusable with new hires as well, thereby reducing training time by up to 99 percent.
At the end of the day, the solution to the skills gap is already inside your company.
Margarita Deviakovitch is a marketing content writer for Visual Knowledge Share Ltd.