Addressing the Skill Gap

Addressing the Skill Gap

May 7, 2021

As if being a shop wasn’t complicated enough, manufacturing in the developed world is facing down a third crisis. That’s right, added to a global pandemic that affects how you do business and global competition that can undercut your prices and not your quality, you have a third problem: The widening Skill Gap. As a matter of fact, recent data posted by Deloitte, BBC, and the Financial Times is showing that manufacturers of all shapes and sizes are having issues filling roles and seeing that shortage of skilled workers have a negative impact on their bottom line within the next 5 years. This includes Canada, where a 2018 poll showed that 56% of manufacturers were experiencing difficulty in hiring staff during the last 12 months.Addressing the Skill Gap

There was a time when getting a manufacturing floor worker was as simple as a handshake and a paycheck. Of course, that paycheck was enough for one worker to pay for a mortgage, a stay-at-home spouse, 3 kids, a pet or two, a car, and a cushy retirement. But with profits squeezed on all sides, the time when that paycheck was not only possible, but normal, are long gone. This has lead to what you’ve probably already noticed: Your new hires leaving before the month ends, job posts that take months or years to fill, and your shop floor getting older. What can you do?

The problem here is actually 3 problems rolled into 1:

  1. Average workers don’t want to go into manufacturing.
  2. New graduates do not have the skills needed for the position and new tech is leaving older workers unable to cope.
  3. Workers feel like their time isn’t worth your money, so they walk away.

The good news here is that you can solve this crisis. Think Lean and DOWNTIME. This is just a case of Non-Utilized Talent. These 3 problems have 3 solutions: Finding Staff, Training Staff, and Engaging, or keeping, your staff.

Finding Staff

While many are graduating from top tier schools, most don’t have the basic concept of manufacturing or trades. On the other hand, a lot of workers have a negative view of manufacturing work, believing it to be repetitive, mind-numbing, and with no room for growth.

The solution here is to:

  • Inform the prospects
  • Improve your talent streams
  • Update your hiring policies

Inform

Just as you must sell your product to your customers, you may need to sell why you are a great place to work to your prospective employees. Proper branding can help your future staff know what to expect on how it is to work for you. Things like:

  • A modern workplace with amenities like good coffee and a free snack bar
  • Positive social media presence
  • Good benefits and employee reviews

Improve

When one vendor can’t supply your raw material, you have to shop elsewhere. In the same way, snagging talented individuals is like buying from a different vendor. Improve the stream of candidates by:

  • Posting to more job boards
  • Using recruiting agencies
  • Build apprentice and internship programs with a local education institution

Update

When your tool breaks down, you have to know how else to make your product. Looking for talent is much like using a different tool for the same function. Here are some updates to your hiring policies that can add more candidates:

  • Review what you are looking for in a successful candidate
  • Adjust your hiring policies to look for traits that are not teachable skills

Of course, this list is just on hiring new staff, but the assumption is that many will not have the skills you need on Day 0. For that, you need to improve your training.

Training Staff

The problem with the wider net to hire will be your onboarding. When you acquire talent that has less experience in an area, this means you need better training to get them up to speed at a reasonable pace. Here, a combination of on-ramp programs and shadowing your senior members will quickly build their skillset while getting them better acquainted with how things are done at your place of business.

And while spending time on new hires is important, you can’t neglect your current staff. After all, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Helping your better workers improve with the skills they need to succeed at your business is better for your future. Leverage the employee’s core competencies to help them acquire new skills, or add a budget line to pay for staff to go back to school.

Either of these systems brings its own benefits:

  • Better on-ramp programs open the gates to more candidates that can help you with those skill gaps that have been particularly hard to fill
  • Better new-skill and continued education programs create better staff loyalty, which in turn can increase your hiring pool as more family and friends of your staff tell of how great it is to work at your shop

Of course, having spend all this time and money to get new staff and train new and old staff alike, you want to make sure you keep them.

Engaging Your Staff

In today’s workplace, workers like to have a map they can follow to their own personal success. Helping your employees with regular fireside chat style meetings and a clear career path with open communication lines helps your staff feel engaged and heard at the workplace. This engagement improves morale and retention rates. This means that the time and money your firm spent to get your top talent stays at your firm.

For engagement to happen organically, you need to:

  • Decrease the number of simple, or mundane, tasks that your employees have to perform
  • Allow your staff to use their creative muscles
  • Provide your staff with the information they need to make the right decisions
  • Push for a more collaborative workplace

These items all combined together will give you a mentally and emotionally healthy work environment. This motivates your staff and leads to them enjoying their work and believing in your company and their future within it.

Conclusion

There are employees out there. Even with low unemployment numbers, there are plenty of workers that are happy to work, you just may need to rethink who you hire and why.

They might not have the skills you need right off the bat, but train them. It is cheaper than you think and much better in the long run.

Hire them, train them, and talk to them. They will stay because you provide them with the right skills and motivation.

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