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Mind the gap! Solutions for solving the skills gap in manufacturing

April 1, 2022
"Think like a TikTok video author and you’re on the right track."

By Stuart Goose, vice president of partnerships with DeepHow

We all know to watch where we are walking and to be aware of hazards, but the gap that employers can’t seem to avoid is the skills gap, especially in manufacturing where it’s having a massive negative impact. Research by Deloitte shows that by 2030, more than 2.1 million jobs will be unfilled, which could cost the US economy as much as $1 trillion.

The question isn’t whether there is a skills shortage; it’s about finding the right solution. And a major component is being overlooked: retention.

Employees who are getting hired aren’t sticking around. It’s a vicious cycle of spending thousands on recruitment, only to lose money when employees leave, requiring you to spend more money for more recruitment. Lather, rinse, repeat. Most efforts to close the skills gap focus on ad spend for job announcements, budgets for employment fairs, cash for signing bonuses, and employee referrals. While it’s costly to find employees, that’s just one factor in bridging the skills gap. Hiring isn’t the end of the staffing chain; it’s all about retention. Hiring someone that leaves in 3-6 months just means you’re back to square one, and again pouring dollars into efforts that weren’t effective.

If the answer is retention, what do employees want and need to keep them on the job? Employee training and development are crucial elements to bridging the skills gap. The applicant pool for most manufacturing jobs consists mostly of workers in the Gen Z demographic, roughly ages 18-24. These are workers who have never known a world without the internet and smart devices like phones and tablets. In a 2021 LinkedIn Learning Report, a whopping 94% of employees said they would stay at a job longer if the company made serious investments in employee training and development. The same research showed that only 15% of these workers can access job-related learning. That’s the gap that needs bridging.

Currently, much of factory workflow training consists of a PDF printed manual, with maybe a shift or two of job shadowing or training from another employee. This model is outdated, inefficient, and it doesn’t address what needs to happen to set this demographic group up for success. Designing for modern learning must focus on the needs and learning preferences of these learners:

  • 96% of Gen Zers will turn to their smartphones to search for instructions or how-to information
  • 93% want training to be on the job
  • 90% want learning to involve collaboration and knowledge sharing

Rather than allocate most of your budget to finding talent, why not aim those resources toward developing talent? Instead of having to shut down a machine or part of an assembly line for basic instruction—while taking experienced employees away from their roles to assist new hires—why not put everything the modern learner needs right in their hands?

Motivating Gen Z learners in the workplace means understanding how they assimilate new skills. Modern learners are ahead of the game; they’ve been using video learning for most of their lives, so a standard instructional model isn’t going to cut it. Instead, consider indexed, searchable how-to videos that enable new hires to upskill from novice to expert in record time. 

The first step toward upgrading your new-hire onboarding is to look at your employee training and development with a critical eye. Chances are, it’s not optimized for the talent pool of Gen Z modern workers. Here are a few ways to know if your program needs work:

  • Employees are still struggling to master core skills, even after a few weeks on the job: If more than a few workers need assistance daily, are making errors regularly, or working slower than expected, this could indicate their training didn’t meet their needs and didn’t clearly convey the necessary information.
  • Employees resign during the training period: For companies that have a dedicated training program for employees in the first few weeks of their employment, management should be checking on completion rates. If more than a few new hires leave or are unable to complete the training, that’s a strong signal that the training program is not making the grade and changes must be considered.
  • Program materials haven’t been updated in a long time: If a company’s employee-training program includes printed PDFs and thick manuals of schematics, it’s outdated. A VHS video? It’s too old. Instructional materials must be as relevant and up to date as the personal technology your employees use every day.

So, what’s the answer? Clearly it depends on many factors, but basic improvements are critical to not only attracting, but retaining the best employees. Here are some practical tips for designing skills training that attracts and retains the best employees:

  1. Focus on interactive training. Modern learners want to play a part in their training, so focus on techniques that require active engagement from new hires. They want to know how to succeed in their new role and learn tips, tricks and hacks from an expert. Think like a TikTok video author and you’re on the right track.
  2. Match the medium to the audience. The days of two-inch binders full of PDF schematics and infographics are over. Watching a video in a conference room, divorced from the shop floor and machinery they’ll be using is a no-no. Instead, focus on custom videos that are produced on the factory floor and deliver step-by-step knowledge transfer.
  3. Turn your in-house experts into stars. While there are many companies that specialize in employee training, it’s also certain that your organization already has expertise on board with experienced employees. Give your most experienced workers the chance to impart skills and techniques they perfected over time. They are your secret weapon!

Closing the skills gap means manufacturers must capture, document, index and transfer skills and know-how to the younger generation of workers who are looking for a career where they are challenged to learn and grow. Done at scale, it’s a daunting undertaking, for sure. However, smart training technology can streamline and accelerate this massive transfer and assimilation of skills, which is clearly a win for workers—and a win for the businesses that employ them.