By Katie Rapp, Writer/Editor for the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) National NetworkPolaris MEP is the Rhode Island Center for the MEP National NetworkTM, whose mission it is to strengthen and empower small and medium-sized manufacturing companies in the United States.
There aren’t enough workers to meet U.S. manufacturers’ needs. A 2021 survey by the National Association of Manufacturers found that 80% of companies say their top challenge is the inability to attract and retain a quality workforce. The situation will worsen as baby boomers continue to retire. Adding to the challenge, the “great resignation” has resulted in people looking for more flexible and rewarding work. According to Deloitte, there could be 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2030.
A new infographic, Training: Responding to the Manufacturing Skills Gap, describes both common workforce challenges for small and medium-sized manufacturers and possible solutions.
Manufacturing training is the solution
Why invest in current employees instead of looking to hire new people? It’s a sound business decision that costs less and results in higher productivity because new employees take an average of five to nine months to reach full productivity. For many manufacturers, retraining and upskilling existing employees creates an attractive work environment and increases retention.
More and more, manufacturers are investing in training. A recent Manufacturing Institute study found that 75% of respondents said upskilling workers helped to improve productivity, promotion opportunities and morale.
Creating effective training programs
What types of training will engage your employees, meeting both your needs for enhanced skills and their needs so that they stay with your firm? Here are some effective training strategies that have worked for small and medium-sized manufacturers:
> Transfer knowledge – mentorships and apprenticeships.More than 90% of employees who have gone through apprenticeship programs stay on the job where they received the training. Mentoring relationships are valuable on both personal and professional levels because they create a sense of connection that is important to job satisfaction – leading to higher retention.
> Leverage technology – augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR). Using AR and VR for training has many benefits including being a safe learning environment and the ability to implement it remotely. It’s more cost effective than real-life simulations and retention rates are much higher for VR than with traditional training. What’s more, the gamification aspects of training appeal to Gen Zers and millennials!
> Apply lean manufacturing principles. Applying the principles of lean manufacturing to training can lead to better results. Design training with a specific intent for what workers need to excel – this increases value and reduces waste. Flexible, active training sessions, and lots of Q&A also align with lean principles.
Mapping the value stream of your training program, creating flow, and aiming for continuous improvement are additional ways to effectively apply lean principles to training programs for great results.
Polaris MEP and the MEP National Network can help
The MEP National Network™ is helping small and medium-sized manufacturers develop the workforce solutions they need. Like Polaris MEP does in Rhode Island, MEP Centers across the U.S. and in Puerto Rico are partnering with local education and economic development partners. Each MEP Center offers a variety of manufacturing training suited to each company’s unique needs, including:
Training on specific skills such as reading blueprints, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing
General skills such as team building and problem-solving
The infographic includes examples of how six MEP Centers worked with manufacturing clients to solve their unique workforce challenges. Here’s a preview, with notes about how Polaris MEP has used similar training to counter Rhode Island’s manufacturing skills gap.
Industry 4.0 and TWI: Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (the Illinois MEP Center) helped Bourn & Koch, Inc. incorporate Industry 4.0 technologies and TWI methodologies to easily transfer knowledge, upskill current employees and train new employees.
Polaris MEP example – TWI is one of the training techniques we use when helping Rhode Island Manufacturers get ready for automation.
Cross-training and upskilling: New Jersey MEP helped Groezinger Provisions, Inc. develop a customized training solution to cross-train and upskill employees to disseminate specialized knowledge, revisit food safety rules and regulations for compliance, and retain and increase sales.
Workflow training: Enterprise Minnesota (the Minnesota MEP Center) helped Minnesota Twist Drill implement inventory reduction training and workflow training to reduce inventory and work in progress, resulting in major cost savings and output.
Certifications: Purdue MEP (the Indiana MEP Center) helped MSP Manufacturing comply with AS9100, ISO 9001 and National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program requirements, get on track to complete Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification requirements, and upskill employees in computer numerical control machining.
Credentials: Ohio MEP helped Rhinestahl Advanced Manufacturing establish training that included in-person interactive workshops combining textbook content, lecture and collaborative discussion on material science, material processing and machinability in five axes, resulting in National Institute for Metalworking Skills materials and machining credentials.
Polaris MEP example – We’re creating blended training programs that leverage our in-house manufacturing advisors, specialists such as our partners from CCRI, and online programs like Tooling U.
Partner with local colleges: Impact Washington (the Washington MEP Center) helped BRIX Marine meet its need for qualified marine aluminum welders by enlisting a local college to develop a curriculum and provide facilities to augment on-the-job training. The program standardized work processes, trained existing employees and new hires, and helped the company build capacity.