Close that skills gap

For success, the skills of the traditional workforce need to be integrated with new, digital-savvy recruits

Manufacturers need to develop a new generation of digitally savvy talent. But at the same time, our ageing workforce means tens of thousands of skilled technicians and professional engineers will retire over the next decade.

Taken together, these two problems underline how closing the skills gap is vital to making manufacturing future-proof.

Yet many organisations are not yet taking action. If we all know that the industry is subject to these disruptive changes, why aren’t more manufacturing businesses ensuring that their “traditional” workforce is equipped and ready to excel in their new environment? After all, when it comes to growth, it is the people within the business – not the machines – that will identify new revenue opportunities and then drive the programmes that will deliver success. It is also people who will inspire and develop the next generation of manufacturing excellence.

This is where training and retraining your employees becomes key. During this transition to the smart, connected factory it is quite likely that some of your more traditional employees will have a difficult time adapting to your new processes, technologies and expectations – making training all the more necessary.

It is crucial to balance the investment in acquiring new talent with the investment in your current workforce. Untrained employees become unhappy employees, inhibiting growth and business success. The best businesses will have high-quality training facilities that are not only suitable for onboarding new employees but also for continuous development programmes and regular training courses. Processes and systems within human resources must also be robust and actively tracking the goals and development aims of individuals.

Employees who feel they are inadequate, underachieving or unsupported will not be satisfied in their work and will be less likely to want to contribute to driving your business forward. Truth is, you will need the skills of your ‘traditional’ workforce to integrate with the ‘digitally savvy’ talent you may bring from outside. This is key to closing the skills gap.

In addition to looking after your existing workforce, manufacturing organisations must make greater efforts to engage with schools and universities to generate more enthusiasm for advanced manufacturing among young people. By making manufacturing businesses more visible within communities, locally, regionally or nationally, we will be able to show young people how careers in manufacturing are a tremendous opportunity.

Adoption of apprenticeships can play a key role

Additionally, adoption of apprenticeships can play a key role in creating a more prepared and qualified workforce. Any manufacturer of any size is now paying the Apprenticeship Levy – it makes no sense to waste this opportunity.

It is clear that manufacturers have their work cut out surviving through these turbulent times. However by ensuring that they invest in their people – existing and new talent – as well as the latest technologies, they will be well on their way to success.

Kris Oldland is publisher and editor-in-chief for Field Service News, which is read by field service professionals across the UK, mainland Europe and in the United States.