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Next-Generation Strategy

Engineering a workforce tailored to your business goals

Published: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 13:36

The manufacturing workforce—so critical to manufacturing innovation—is the basic, yet decisive, building block for successfully implementing next-generation strategies. If manufacturers are to engineer innovation in their businesses, workforce-development investments must evolve from a one-off transactional activity to a business strategy integrated with other critical business strategies.

To be competitive, America’s small manufacturers must align their workforce strategies with their business goals, develop and manage workforce skills and employee training, streamline recruitment efforts, reduce turnover, support performance, and plan for internal career mobility and succession in their entire employee population.

Innovation is at the core of what the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) does. MEP serves an essential role by placing in U.S. manufacturers’ hands the innovations that were developed through research at federal laboratories, educational institutions, and corporations. The program assists manufacturers to achieve new sales, which lead to higher tax receipts and new sustainable jobs in the high-paying advanced manufacturing sector.

MEP workforce initiatives

Strategic Management Acquisition and Retention of Talent (SMARTalent)
A technology tool called SMARTalent, which stands for Strategic Management Acquisition and Retention of Talent, is being developed at MEP. It will help manufacturers integrate workforce-development strategies and investments into their operations, and automate basic tasks.

SMARTalent can be used for workforce diagnostics, job profiling, competency and skill identification, want ads, workflow planning, lay-off aversion, and succession planning, and will automate functions for these activities. It enables manufacturers to eliminate task redundancies and streamlines processes.

Strategic consulting
MEP works to ensure manufacturers’ access to talent, training, and educational resources is not limited by a manufacturer’s size. It helps manufacturers develop their own partnerships at the local, regional, state, and federal levels for the most current ideas, techniques, technology, and policies in workforce development and performance management.

MEP helps companies gather data and think about workforce investments the same way one gathers data and thinks about investments in new production technologies or expanding markets—by using analytics. MEP shows how to use analytics to evaluate tangible and intangible results from reduced turnover, improved customer service, new-product ideation, patents, shorter cycle times in problem solving, and reduced liability costs, to name a few, and to make these analyses an integrated part of an overall strategy for business growth.

Training in education partnerships
MEP engages in training and education partnerships with trade associations, federal and state agencies, educational systems, and business coalitions for knowledge- and resource-sharing, technical assistance, seed money, training and certification, and network development.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers, ACT, the American Welding Society, the National Institute of Metalworking Skills, and the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council are just a few partnering organizations.

National Association of Manufacturers
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Manufacturing Skills Certification System gives students the opportunity to earn manufacturing credentials that are valued by a range of employers. The certifications are industry-recognized credentials that validate job seekers’ skills in specific manufacturing disciplines and in turn improve their earning power. Students and workers can access this credentials program through community colleges in 30 states.

Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge
This $26 million initiative was formed to boost regionally driven economic development strategies that support advanced manufacturing clusters. NIST MEP will provide funding up to $125,000 per year for three years for up to 12 existing MEP centers in the form of a cooperative agreement. This program will enable MEP centers to partner with regional organizations to assist companies with their advanced manufacturing efforts. This initiative will help accelerate private capital, build an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and promote advanced manufacturing and cluster-based development in regions across the United States.

Innovation Engineering Leadership Institute
Since January 2010, MEP has hosted 27 Innovation Engineering Leadership Institute events with a total of 3,581 attendees (an average of 125 attendees per event). During these three-day training seminars, MEP teaches manufacturers and their employees the importance of innovation and how to instill it into their company culture. Attendees are also shown how to cycle new product ideas in quick, easy stages to minimize risk and maximize their return on investment.

Workforce readiness
All manufacturing employees must have soft skills as well as technical skills, including emotional intelligence, communication skills, strength in cognition and analysis, business acumen, and creative problem-solving skills. Supervisors are leaders, not just technicians, and are required to be mentors, not simply bosses. Frontline workers can be valued for their ideas, not just their output, and these days, as productivity reaches its highest levels ever, workers should be recognized for their intrinsic value—something most often mistakenly seen as intangible and unquantifiable. MEP partners with a variety of public and private institutions to help kids, parents, teachers, and policymakers understand the critical need of a highlyskilled manufacturing workforce.

Business stabilization
The Manufacturing Sector Lay-off Aversion Business Assistance Program is a collaboration among rapid response, layoff-aversion teams, and MEP centers and partners. MEP centers work with multiple state and local partners, including workforce investment boards, to assess companies at risk. Together they identify cost savings, training, retraining, and redeployment opportunities to ensure that the company and the local economy does not lose revenue or skills. Strategies may include reducing costs through process improvements, reducing waste, reducing energy use, and implementing innovation and growth strategies. Growth strategies may include diversification into new product development and diversification into new markets.


About The Author

NIST’s picture


Founded in 1901, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a nonregulatory federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, NIST’s mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.