It’s one thing to diagnose a problem, and another to offer solutions. 

This has been the case with the skills gap in manufacturing. It’s clear to those in the industry there’s a problem. But what are some solutions? Crucially, will any of them work?

This post will examine solutions to the skills gap. We’ll focus on some exciting proposals for closing the skills gap, then suggest ways that those programs can be made maximally effective.

Skills Gap Solutions: A Survey

1.) New Forms of Collaboration

The skills gap is too large for any organization to solve alone. Thus, the best way to close the skills gap is to encourage ongoing collaboration between industry, education, and government.

Involving multiple stakeholders ensures that programs align training with need. As the New York Times has recently written of “demand driven” retraining programs, “coordination with local industry, ideally touching on everything from curriculum to recruitment, is now seen by policy experts as a crucial dividing line between programs that work and those that don’t.”

2.) Upskilling on the Job

Waiting until a layoff or relocation to develop new skills is a recipe for disaster. Employers and workers need to be proactive.

The best way to do this is for employers to offer workers ways of developing new skills while on the job. Whether it’s rotating between departments, subsidizing classes, or helping workers earn the experience and certifications they need to move forward, it’s critical that workers develop new skills early and often.

3.) Record Tacit Knowledge Before It’s Lost

The skills gap isn’t just the result of new positions in manufacturing. It’s also a product of mass retirement. Some commentators have called this the “Silver Tsunami,” a wave of worker rolling out of the industry as a generation reaches retirement age.

When these career manufacturers retire, they take a lifetime of experience with them. Given that many of the details of any given manufacturing operation exist as tacit knowledge (unrecorded or standardized), these retirements hurt doubly. One thing manufacturers can do to ease the skills gap is to document experienced workers’ technique, as well as their tacit best practices, as soon as possible. This will give them a means of preserving tacit knowledge and a resource for training new workers faster and more effectively. 

4.) Digital Knowledge Share

The internet has made it easier than ever to share expertise. This is true with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but it’s also true in a more general sense. One model manufacturing can follow is open source. 

Open source software development started as a way of sharing individual work with an interest community of developers. It quickly evolved into an immensely productive form of collaborations, used by the world’s largest corporations and niche communities alike. Some organizations are beginning to experiment with this kind of open-sourced collaboration, and it has the potential to change the way manufacturers teach and learn skills. 

Creating Solutions That Work

There are a few factors any skills gap solution needs to consider in order to work for workers and employers. 

Mind Each of the Three “R’s”

There are three tacits manufacturers must take to close the skills gap, each as important as the next. Also called the “Three R’s”, manufacturers must recruit, retrain, and retain employees. 

Think in Terms of Tasks

One of the key insights to emerge from analyses of the skills gap is that it’s insufficient to look at jobs alone. Rather, it’s better to look at jobs as a collection of tasks. By inventorying the constitutive tasks of every manufacturing job, as well as newly emerging tasks, manufacturers can put together a clearer picture of how to reskill their workforce. 

Get Creative

It’s a given that industry, government, and education must work together to attract new workers, retain existing ones, and retrain those whose skills are no longer useful. The task at hand now is to think of new ways each sector can leverage its abilities in new and creative ways to improve outcomes for workers and manufacturing.

Always Align Retraining with Demand

Retraining programs don’t work unless they have placement in mind. “Retraining is held up as some sort of savior to displaced workers,” an expert in worker placement who helps connect newly trained workers with businesses told the New York Times, “But without a specific job at the other end, no one is going to waste their time retraining just to retrain.”

Involve Workers Early

Technological change is incremental. Skill sets don’t disappear overnight. Working from this fact of disruption, workers and employers have an opportunity to start a dialogue early about the nature and extent of technological adoption.  

As labor research and historian Thomas Kochan recently remarked, “We’ve got to open up our institutions and our policies to give workers a voice in the early stages of the design process. That’s when the key decisions are made.”

Lifelong Learning

Commentators now suggest that all workers adopt an attitude of “lifelong learning.” This is a good suggestion, but it risks trapping workers in cycles of recredentialing and reskilling at their expense. For lifelong learning to be viable, it needs to be accessible for everyone. 

Exercise Empathy

Losing a job is one of the hardest things that can happen to a person. Losing an identity tied to work (and often a geography, too) can be harder. So while it’s important to track the macroeconomic effects of the skills gap, it’s just as or more important to engage empathetically and consider the human aspect of reskilling. Programs will be more successful if they consider workers’ humanity beyond their capacity to fill vacant positions. 

Tulip helps manufacturers train and retrain their workforce to keep everyone competitive. If you’re interested in how Tulip can enhance your training, get in touch for a free demo. If you curious about how we’re collaborating to help solve the skills gap, learn more here.