As the manufacturing skills gap becomes more prevalent each year, closing this gap is becoming an urgent topic for companies worldwide.
But can we close the gap, or at least mitigate its effects on the industry?
Despite the increased discussions on the topic, it seems like closing the manufacturing skills gap is a losing battle. With statistics showing potential losses in the trillions of dollars for the U.S. and estimates of millions of jobs being unfilled by the year 2030, the world needs a smart solution that can close this gap quickly.
The good news is that companies are taking action against the manufacturing skills gap. But are these methods working?
The cause of the manufacturing skills gap can be attributed to the fast growth of new technologies and smart processes like automation and big data. As more innovations regularly flood the industry and the market, the workforce is having trouble sustaining the required skills to keep the system running.
The industry has been innovating technology and processes so quickly that many operations and workforces can’t keep up. And for many companies, the traditional focus has been set on advancing production systems and not necessarily advancing the skills and capabilities of the workforce.
In light of these advanced technologies requiring greater human skills in the workplace, the situation is ironic, to say the least.
Instead of automation and evolving technologies being the cause of job losses, these advancements and industry shifts have led to a realization that we need skilled people now more than ever.
Adding to this, we are also experiencing a global labor shortage which only exacerbates the effect of the manufacturing skills gap even further. These two problems are intrinsically connected but the solutions to each require different methods, as we will see later on.
Yes, plain and simple. And here’s how we know:
According to a study conducted by McKinsey & Company, nearly 90% of companies attested that they are either experiencing a skills gap or expect to experience a skills gap firsthand within the next few years.
And this trend seems to be here to stay. In a research paper conducted by the World Government Summit, the U.S. alone is expected to experience a loss of 8.5 trillion by the year 2030 due to the skills gap.
To throw more bad news on the proverbial fire, in a recent study, 46% of polled employees think that their current skills will be obsolete by the year 2024.
For some of you, these statistics and predictions are nothing new. The manufacturing skills gap is already a hot topic. Doom and gloom have already been the prevailing themes of the discussions.
So let’s change the tune a little bit.
Instead of focusing on WHAT the manufacturing skills gap is, let’s look into HOW companies are trying to close the skills gap and which strategies are working. We know, for the most part, what the skills gap is and its effects, but do we know how to fight against it?
Within the study conducted by Mckinsey & Company, the majority of respondents stated that closing the skills gap was a top priority. Although interestingly, these same respondents admitted to not having a clear plan of attack. And only about a third of respondents said they have taken actions to prevent it or close the gap within their own business.
Understandably, companies are unsure about what to do. Somehow companies need to prepare for a future that they can’t discernibly see. How can companies prepare their workforce for innovations before they exist?
It seems like it is just one big game of catch-up. But this might be the wrong way of looking at it.
What we need are tools and actions that enable us to quickly respond as change occurs. Predominantly, companies have been pursuing the following 2 methods to close in on the manufacturing skills gap.
Let's take a look at these two strategies and measure their effectiveness in combatting the manufacturing skills gap.
Let’s tackle the first and most popular method. The study found that the most common tactic taken by companies is to hire more workers. As we said earlier, alongside the skills gap, there is also a labor shortage. So hiring more workers would seem to be an obvious choice.
Two birds with one stone, right? Well, not exactly.
I should specify first that hiring people does mitigate the issue to a certain degree. New people come into the industry from schools and elsewhere and supply the industry with new skills and ideas for growth and advancement. But this popular solution presents 2 problems. These can be explained through the ideas of space and time.
Sounds like science fiction but I assure you we’re getting somewhere.
Just as there is a finite amount of matter in space, there are only a finite number of workers on the planet.
Hiring more people doesn’t address the skills gap nationally or globally. One or a few companies could hire more and more people through various incentives, but then other companies would be understaffed. And this could negatively affect the supply chain.
Instead of the numbers growing, the global workforce fluctuates from company to company. Which shifts the burden more than it solves the problem. Getting more people to pursue jobs within the industry is a good idea. But this is a long game strategy and does little in the short term. And again, it addresses labor shortages, not the manufacturing skills gap.
Unlike at any other point in history, humans have to persistently chase current/future innovations and skills at an incredible pace. And it doesn’t seem like this progress is slowing down anytime soon. This means that closing the manufacturing skills gap is a race against time. One that fast-growing technologies will surely win next to a company’s singular focus of hiring more people.
Pro Tip: Did you know that most companies value attitude over specific skills when hiring new employees? Industry leaders have found that it is much easier to teach people hard skills than teach them the right attitude.
To illustrate this, imagine you’ve just hired the next generation of workers. This hiring spree will supply you with an influx of new people and skills. But what happens when new processes and technologies enter the scene? All the skills of the new people you’ve hired will be obsolete shortly after hiring them. Now your workforce is underskilled within the technological climate of the present and future.
Another more useful solution is to focus on reskilling your already established workforce. This way, instead of cycling through your valuable employees, your workforce gets smarter and smarter with every new level of training and technological innovation.
Picture it this way: Workers are finite, but the skills and potential of your workforce are infinite.
With this in mind, companies should value the skills that they’ve fostered within their current workforce and use their experience and knowledge as a means to instruct/train the next generation of workers. Then as new processes, technologies, and skills need to be adopted, the whole of your workforce is perfectly situated to learn the new required skills.
Although, as the study points out, there's a small problem with reskilling getting implemented on a corporate level. Many companies are unsure about how to accomplish this goal.
About 60% of respondents in the survey by Mckinsey & Company said they are highly confident in their ability to choose the right people for reskilling measures yet lack the sufficient programs to make it happen. This further demonstrates that even though many companies see the value in reskilling, they are at a loss when it comes to curriculum design and balancing it with regular duties.
How can we solve this?
Ironically, the cause of the skills gap (advancements in technology) is also the solution to the skills gap. Let me explain.
What if we could build on the momentum of growing technology to advance the skills of the workforce more quickly? We can take advanced technology like digital work instruction software to help people learn the new skills they require.
Tools like VKS Lite, Pro, & Enterprise use the fast-paced innovations of Industry 4.0 and 5.0 to help people gain new skills and knowledge faster. By optimizing the shop floor and technology with a clear vision to enhance the capabilities and skills of people, digital work instructions enable workers to follow the best methods every time.
Absolutely! There is very little stopping individual companies from addressing their specific required skills and employing a tool like work instruction software to consistently instruct and reskill their workforce.
In the previously mentioned McKinsey & Company survey, about 70% of companies that invested in reskilling have found the benefits to outweigh the initial investment costs. And this is only the beginning.
As time goes on, reskilling is going to become a normal part of the workplace. Hard skills no longer last a lifetime and companies will need to adjust to that fact and invest in the education of their employees. All jobs, including those within manufacturing, will require people to learn and increase their capabilities alongside the fast-paced technological advancements that enable efficient and sustainable processing.
Work instruction software is an dynamic and scalable technology that companies use to be responsive to the ever-evolving environment of manufacturing. With detailed visual instructions that guide workers through simple to complex jobs, workers always have the skills they need to get the job done right.