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What Top Companies are Doing to Close the Manufacturing Skills Gap

January 4, 2018

Not to brag, but I’ve been to my fair share of manufacturing plants in this country. If you don’t work in manufacturing, you may think that all plants look and act alike. (If you do work in manufacturing, then you know how very wrong that is.) But there is one factor that tends to unite manufacturing companies nowadays, regardless of the product being produced: they are all feeling the skills gap inherent to millennial applicants who, by and large, have little to no experience in anything remotely related to the industry. This is the result of a perfect storm: experienced workers are retiring, the manufacturing industry is booming and in need of more workers, and eligible young applicants are largely unfamiliar with the world of manufacturing in general.Manufacturing Hiring Skills Gap

Though this pain is felt across the manufacturing industry, some organizations are more prepared to weather the storm than others. In my observations and conversations with some of our most successful clients, I’ve noticed a few trends that set these organizations apart when it comes to skills gap struggles.

Here are some of the investments our top manufacturing clients have taken to close the manufacturing skills gap in their workforce:

  1. Partner with local community colleges or trade schools. The skills gap exists when there is no pipeline of candidates who are informed, motivated, and trained in the basic requirements for successful performance in manufacturing roles. One of the most direct and effective ways to combat this is to target your applicant search to students who have already exhibited an interest and basic aptitude for working in manufacturing. Organizations that embrace this mindset will go beyond job fairs and become a true partner with local educational programs. One example is to have monthly or quarterly tour groups set up for any students interested in learning about the organization. Internships, job shadowing, and targeted advertisements about your company’s benefits can also attract young trade-schoolers. Or, if you use assessments in your selection process, offer testing opportunities at local school libraries.

    Read more: 3 Ways to Improve your Manufacturing Hiring Assessment
  2. Assess aptitude, not knowledge. Even when a partnership with local communities is not feasible, your candidate pool can still possess great employees. Applicants with little or no manufacturing experience will likely need more time to learn the role, though, and require more upfront information about the job itself. Successful organizations know that aptitude to learn is almost as important as already having the skills for the job.  If your selection system includes knowledge-based questions for a role that is entry-level, or a role in which this knowledge can quickly be learned, then you’re likely screening out candidates who could be successful. Instead, assess a candidate’s ability to learn the job along with their personal preferences for the job type. These two factors will help increase your rate of hiring high potentials even when their current skillset is lacking.

  3. Create in-house programs and certifications. Once you’ve found the right employees to bring onboard, you’ll want to keep developing their skillset regardless of their background. Some of the most successful companies have their own voluntary trainings and programs available for anyone who wants to learn specialized skills. Investing in new employee development is beneficial for everyone involved: employees gain a sense of pride in themselves and commitment to the organization, and the company will have a higher caliber of employees who can mentor the next wave of new hires.

    Related: Beyond Hiring: 5 Steps to Taking Care of Your Employees

While there’s no foolproof way to solve the skills gap problem, it’s no coincidence that many top-performing manufacturing organizations are following similar actions. Taking specific steps to proactively reduce this gap is your best way to stay afloat and become a manufacturing organization that withstands the test of time. 

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Jaclyn Menendez, Ph.D. Jaclyn Menendez, Ph.D. is a Project Consultant at PSI based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Her areas of expertise include testing, assessments, and project management. Jaclyn has contributed to the development, validation, and implementation of assessments with various clients. She has managed, analyzed, and presented data analyses for content and criterion validation studies.