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Last updateMon, 15 Oct 2018 3pm

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Five Solutions to the Skills Gap

“Over the next decade, nearly three and a half million manufacturing jobs will likely need to be filled, and the skills gap is expected to result in 2 million of those jobs going unfilled.”

That is the conclusion of a recent report commissioned by The Manufacturing Institute. According to this report, many industries, not just manufacturing, are having trouble filling these jobs. And, despite the fact that common wisdom decrees that young people have stellar computer skills, executives surveyed for this report considered deficiencies in technical and computer skills being their biggest concern when hiring. This is followed by a lack of problem solving skills, basic technical training, and math skills.

What is particularly concerning about this gap in skills is that manufacturing has become increasingly technical. Manufacturers have been redesigning and streamlining production lines, leading to increasingly automated processes for decades. While some of the jobs remaining in these highly automated plants require less technically skilled workers, generally these plants can only operate with highly skilled workers who are trained in programming.

According to Michael Collins, in an article in Industry Week, the changes that led to embracing smart technologies actually began back in the 1990s when publicly held companies concerned about meeting shareholder demands decided to focus on profit-centered automation rather than investing in training. However, without training potential workers to run these factories, and without the skilled tradespeople to operate the equipment, productivity and therefore profits may take a hit. Add to this dilemma the fact that baby boomers are retiring at the rate of 10,000 per day and the concerns that have been building for the last two decades are coming to a head.

Thus, it has become increasingly important for valve, actuator and control manufacturers and their suppliers to participate in innovative recruiting and training programs to fill the empty spaces in their factories. This is one reason the Valve Manufacturers Association launched the Valve Careers program—to offer connections, guidance and resources to VMA member companies, including educating them about best practices in recruiting, training and retention. More about how Valve Careers is providing VMA members with tools and resources will be covered later in this article. The following is a sampling of some of the current programs into which you can tap, along with suggestions for ways you can improve recruitment within your own organization.

Private In-House Training

While this may seem like an obvious solution, many manufacturers across all industries have not yet devoted the time or funds to have a formal method or program to train new employees and/or to use in-house training. The traditional attitude has been to hire people who already have the skills you want. However, that model requires that there be an existing pool of talent that is already doing what you need to be done. Since many younger people did not see manufacturing as a viable career choice over the last several decades, that means there are few people trained and available now to do the job you have open.

Additionally, even when someone is hired, the skills they bring may or may not in fact be the skills needed in the job for which they are hired. Job descriptions may be outdated and processes change, so it is imperative to actually talk with current people doing the work to understand all the skills necessary to do the job, and the level of those skills. It’s important to formally collect this kind of information to know exactly where you have skills gaps, and who is available to train others. This information must be visible and easy to find so that, as openings arise, you can plan how to best to fill skills gaps and train the people you need, whether they are being recruited from outside the company or from another area in your plant. This also sets the stage for retaining valuable knowledge and skills within the company.

In this current atmosphere of job and cost-cutting, especially in the sectors connected to oil and gas production, it is tempting to cut back on training programs. It is difficult to consider investing in training when a company is downsizing. But downsizing generally means more work is required of a smaller group of people who may not have the skills are being asked to perform. An example of this would involve a group of ten people working in a department. Likely they will have similar competencies, but very specific skill sets for their job. Losing three or four members of this group will likely result in a net loss of knowledge in the department, so training and development can be very important during a recession, even after downsizing. Additionally, training programs can go a long way to increasing employee morale in a downturn.

According to business advisor William G. Bliss, the high cost of recruiting, which consists of advertising, internal recruiter time including interviews and background checks, drug screens and various pre-employment assessment tests, is a primary reason to have ongoing internal investment in training and mentoring. According to Bliss, even an eight dollar per hour employee can end up costing approximately $3,500 in direct and indirect turnover costs.

One way to extend the benefits of training new recruits is exemplified by a program that Victaulic has whereby new hires come into one area of the plant, but rotate throughout the different parts of the plant. In a VALVEMagazine.com article from early 2015, this program, which helps new employees find the area in which they will excel, was outlined. The foundry might not be ideal, but the machine shop could well be the best place for a new recruit, and the training is provided based on a best fit.

Collaboration

In a 2013 article, Michael Denham, managing director for consulting services company Accenture, suggested that one of the most effective ways of solving the skills gap problem is to work with other industry players and educational institutions to build a pool of skilled workers and to share the costs and risks of establishing training programs. This will help companies reach a wider audience of potential employees.

Unfortunately, in a world of intellectual property rights protection, it is difficult to get collaboration amongst companies manufacturing highly engineered products. Thus, much of the collaboration is done via manufacturers training end user employees, such as is the case with Emerson’s comprehensive program, which provides training not just to its own employees and business partners, but also to end users.

Mentorship Programs

In a recent article in VALVE Magazine, the program developed at A.W. Chesterton Company was mentioned as one way that the company is developing its millennial workforce. In this case, the company has a formal 12-week mentoring program designed to deepen the engagement process with both formal training sessions and less structured “ride-along” programs where new employees basically just spend time with a particular person.

In other companies utilizing such programs, mentorship means much more than a way for new employees to learn the ropes. It can also help more established employees who begin to feel “stuck” in a role within the company develop their careers within the company. In addition to retaining valuable employees, this can also help the company be recognized within its industry as one in which learning and promotion from within are part of the culture, and this is an important consideration for many millennial workers.

If your own company does not have a formal mentoring program, there are online programs that can connect mentors with protégés. An example of this is MentorNet.org – a non-profit connecting protégés and their mentors via a kind of social network. MentorNet serves students pursuing STEM degrees from accredited institutions in the U.S.

Trade Associations

Trade associations are another way that manufacturers can help finance and promote careers in the valve and attendant industries, and provide training from which all members can benefit without the huge investment it would take for each to create and maintain in-house.

Just as MentorNet provides a link between mentors and protégés, the Valve Manufacturers Association’s Valve Careers program is providing a link between manufacturers and millennial employees. At ValveCareers.com, recruits interested in a valve manufacturing career can learn about the types of opportunities available, browse VMA member websites to find job postings, submit their information via a resume form which is shared with VMA HR contacts, and also get information about the history, types and uses of valves, along with access about basic training in valves.

Other trade associations, like the International Fluid Power Society offer certification training and educational opportunities for mechanics, technicians, and specialists in the fluid power field. This association also works with manufacturers in an ongoing effort to ensure the training keeps pace with changing fluid power and motion control technologies.

Partnerships with Unions and Non-Profits

Workshops for WarriorsSeveral organizations exist whereby recruits with unique backgrounds get training for work in the valve and other manufacturing industries.

In the case of Workshops for Warriors in San Diego, CA, wounded veterans are trained for jobs in the manufacturing sector. Funds are provided by donations of materials and space by manufacturers as well as cash donations from private individuals. Graduates emerge with welding or machining skills and in an interview for VALVE Magazine, the organization urged manufacturers to think long-term and work together to ease the skilled worker shortage. “If all manufacturing puts in a little bit, everybody benefits. All these individual companies are wasting time trying to hire, and train, individuals. But a small investment into training of the workforce now will benefit everyone in the aggregate.”

Some unions are also getting involved, especially when apprenticeship programs are being instituted. Apprenticeships are the most trial-tested way for firms to address their current and future skills needs, but, according to the Harvard Business Review, the number of apprenticeship programs in the U.S. has shrunk by 36% since 1998, and enrollments have dropped by 16% since a peak in 2003.

How is Your Company Handling the Challenge?

Are you an end user or manufacturer struggling with recruiting and keeping skilled workers?

Do you have a unique program that is successful at recruiting and training good people?

Let us know what you’re doing as we would like to do a follow up article to demonstrate the possibilities.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is senior editor of VALVE Magazine.

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