It’s no secret that seasoned or certified skilled labor is in short supply these days. In their report, “2015 and beyond” Deloitte Consulting and the Manufacturing Institute predicted that over the next decade, 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will likely need filled - but a lack and/or gap of skilled labor will result in 2 million of those jobs being unfilled. And as the median age of most skilled labor workforces edges towards retirement, attendance at community colleges - especially for trades - is down 23 percent nationally.
In the face of this growing labor shortage, if you operate in the manufacturing industry the future of your business may well depend on your ability to effectively train employees in-house. In my experience working with businesses to maintain human capital, I’ve identified three major issues when it comes to in-house training:
- The process is inefficient. Training for welding, machining, etc. was taking too much time and too often the employee who was trained left during the training process or right after - creating a double loss.
- The training methods are still “old school.” The mindset of your new employees is totally different than when those systems were designed for baby boomers.
- Too much is being asked. Too often we ask skilled labor workers to become creative teachers/leaders and to do this in addition to their normal responsibilities.
I have seen companies spend months and unmeasurable dollars attempting to train someone, only to have the person leave either during the process or right after. In another case, a client invested $10,000 to get an employee certified and guess what happened? Shortly after the training was complete, they left to work for a competitor for more money. The new employer was more than willing to pay more salary when they invested no costs for the training process.
I asked Jordan Owens, founder of Manufacturers Resource Network and a manufacturing engineering & process expert, to share some of his thoughts from his experiences directly from the shop floor. Jordan has over 30 years’ experience improving manufacturing environments nationally & globally.
“The skills gap in manufacturing is a significant problem for manufacturers all over the U.S. I believe there are at least key aspects to this problem: Training new people and retaining the good people.
My partner hired a young gentleman that was at the top of his vocational class in welding. My partner said his welds were beautiful but the poor kid couldn’t read a print or a tape measure. Training tends to be looked at as a simple - singular task. Watch him/her and then go do it. It is much more complex than that and usually companies are heavily reliant on their highly skilled in-house people to do the training.
I know of a shop in Northeast Ohio that lost their two most skilled machinists in a brief period of time. These guys were running extremely expensive pieces of equipment and making their employer a lot of money. I had a chance to have lunch with these two guys and asked why they left. They left because the owner of the company was an extremely bad leader. They have both found new employment and have been welcomed with open arms by their new employers. I consult for a lot of manufacturing companies and it astounds me how some owners think sometimes. They won’t pay top performers what they are really worth. A good machinist or welder can make your company a lot of money, a poor machinist or welder can end up costing you money. Many employers want to pay a narrow band for skilled trades regardless of performance and ability, this to me is a huge mistake.”
In the next article in this series looking at in-house training, Jordan and I will share some of the secrets to success we have seen from very well run manufacturers in the U.S. that have excellent training programs for skilled trades. I will also share some ideas on how to successfully address the people side of this issue and other key aspects such as the environment, shop, and processes at the company.
If nothing else, manufacturing companies need to wake up to the fact that the old school way of training skilled laborers will fall short. You must change how you address and think of your people and your processes to win.