Do you want to hear the good news or the bad news first? I’m a good news first kind of person, so I’ll answer my question and start with the good news.

The manufacturing industry is rebounding and entering a renaissance. According to a Trade and Industry Development article, volatility in world markets has not changed the high demand for manufactured products. In spite of a shift to a service or knowledge economy, manufacturing is still a central part of our economy. In her article The Manufacturing Workforce: Investment Required, Jeannine Kunz states, “The U.S. remains the world’s largest manufacturing economy – producing 19 percent of all globally manufactured products in 2013.” (26 Sept 2016)

The emphasis is mine because of the significance of the number – the good news.

Now, the bad news.

I’ll quote Kunz’s article again, “Studies show that talent-driven innovation, based on the quality and availability of workers (skilled labor, as well as researchers, scientists and engineers), is the No. 1 driver of manufacturing competitiveness. In spite of this fact, finding, hiring and retaining employees with the right skills has proven to be a challenge.”

The bottom line is the manufacturing industry has a serious perception problem and current efforts to change the employment brand in manufacturing is not working. It’s simply not working.

The missing ingredient is the industry’s willingness to change the paradigm of their talent development.

In this post, I’ll match the four key factors driving the talent shortage from The Manufacturing Workforce: Investment Required, with matching solutions from learning and development, to draw the best candidates.

Top 4 Ways to Draw the Best Talent to Manufacturing

1. Look beyond technical training.

Reshoring means an increased need for skilled workers on U.S. soil – and we expect the workers to have a greater breadth of talent. The industry needs leaders, both formal and informal, not just makers.

According to the Global Leadership Forecast, 2014/2015 study highlighting findings on the current state of leadership practices in manufacturing, highly critical skills receiving low focus in the industry include creativity, innovation, and cultural competence. (p. 16)learning by unlearning

Yes, technical and STEM skills are necessary to work in manufacturing, but small to mid-size manufacturing companies are allocating few resources to talent development outside of skills training.

Manufacturers must overturn what the global leadership forecast calls, “scrap learning” (p. 32), the common practice of offering piecemeal classes that employees are required to attend, without understanding their development plan.

Instead, even the smallest companies can create a learning path with the help of educational partners that builds a pipeline of leaders with technical skills.

2. Re-brand the manufacturing industry’s image by putting people development at its center.

Today’s manufacturing is nothing like days of old. Integrated technologies, automation, advanced factory floors, and more drive the core of the industry. However, the “customer” of the talent management professionals, the job candidate, does not see this picture.

Your brand is what your customer candidate says it is.

Instead, parents, school councilors, and younger generations view a manufacturing job as dark, repetitive, dangerous, and without potential. (Kunz, 2016) It’s apparent that enticing new candidates to jobs in manufacturing means changing their perception of what it means to be a manufacturing professional. Putting a well-designed learning program into the package for new employees can be the crown jewel of your company’s recruitment and retention. The scrap learning I mentioned above won’t do.

According to Global Human Capital Trends for 2016 by Deloitte, employees demand a personalized, digital, and interactive learning experience (p. 26-27). Millennials, in particular, won’t stand for the read-off-the-PowerPoint type of training prominent in many organizations. If manufacturers want to hire the best talent, they’ll have to offer the best opportunities for learning and growth to all their employees.

3. Leverage the wisdom of older workers as subject matter experts.

Your aging workforce will take their knowledge them when they retire. On the flip side, Baby Boomers have tremendous skill and wisdom they can pass along as subject matter experts.If you’re unfamiliar with three potential roles in Instructional Systems Design, there’s the learning designer who looks at strategy, the instructional designer that brings the course to life, and the subject matter expert who brings the content-specific knowledge. Sometimes one person does all three. However, hiring a learning and development partner that can leverage the internal expertise in your company can set your business apart.aging workers in manufacturing

If you’re unfamiliar with three potential roles in Instructional Systems Design, there’s the learning designer who looks at strategy, the instructional designer that brings the course to life, and the subject matter expert who brings the content-specific knowledge. Sometimes one person does all three. However, hiring a learning and development partner that can leverage the internal expertise in your company can set your business apart.

When developing your learning plan, you can attract the best talent with a combination of training in technical, leadership, and company-specific skills that can accelerate their career with you.

4. Keep your learning pathways current.

According to Kunz’s article, the fourth driver of the talent pipeline is the increased pace of technology in the manufacturing industry. Although the demand for highly-skilled workers is rising, it’s harder and harder for these employees to change with the technology.

The rapid change presents two opportunities. First is the chance to design training that stays current with a yearly review of the learning pathways your organization has created. Second, is to refresh these learning paths with the most needed soft-skills for high-value employees when they’re ready. Letting your learning get musty is simply not an option with the speed of innovation in manufacturing demands top talent.

I’ve shared with you the “aha” moments from reading about the learning and development industry and the persistence of a skills gap in manufacturing. I’m looking forward to finding more articles that combine the two disciplines in the future.

Soma

Sign up for our Learn.Do.Grow eNewsletter, and we’ll deliver great content like this to your inbox each month. The September 2016 is titled, “Prioritizing Learning in a 24/7 World.” Click here for a sample.