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Leslie Bloom


Breaking Down the Skills Gap, Part 2

Taking a hard look at your training program is necessary to adapt to a workforce in transition

Published: Thursday, March 19, 2020 - 12:02

The Manufacturing Institute estimated that 2.4 million job openings in manufacturing—accounting for half of all open positions—will go unfilled between 2018 and 2028 as a direct consequence of the skills gap. This isn’t a future problem.

The challenges of the skills gap and a shifting workforce are impacting businesses right now. The average U.S. manufacturer is losing an estimated 11 percent of its annual earnings (EBITDA), or $3,000 per existing employee, due to the talent shortage. (Read part one of this series.)

Time to take a fresh look at the skills gap.

Due to a shifting workforce and outdated training methods, many manufacturers are failing to capitalize on their workforce capacity within current talent pools. In fact, 84 percent of manufacturing executives agree that a talent shortage already exists in the United States.

What can businesses do to bridge the skills gap and attract a skilled workforce?

The short answer? Create better training programs.

Taking a hard look at your training program is necessary to adapt to a workforce in transition.

We know... this isn’t the silver bullet that the industry is looking for. However, traditional training methods are no longer capable of upskilling employees effectively and are having a negative impact on quality, productivity, and employee retention. Taking a hard look at your training program is necessary to adapt to a workforce in transition.


The cost of poor (nonstandardized) training

More often than not, companies have formalized training programs, but in practice, skills are learned through a variety of informal ways. Ultimately, people rely on unofficial training methods like job shadowing, which have been common practice in many businesses for decades.

These traditional training methods are inherently nonstandardized and an inefficient way to transfer knowledge. Not only are they wasteful, but they also increase safety risks and negatively impact quality. In fact, 85 percent of quality costs are still caused by worker errors. This indicates that training programs still aren’t where they should be. Although these traditional approaches have been sufficient for their time, they ultimately lack standardization and could be improved upon.

“Every large company has some type of training program in a large variety of areas... yet, go where the actual work is being done, and ask people how they learned their jobs and you get a different picture.”
—Jeffrey Liker and David Meier, Toyota Talent (McGraw-Hill Education, 2007)

One-on-one training

Practices like job-shadowing and on-the-job training lack both scalability and visibility. These peer-to-peer coaching methods are only possible with enough experienced workers available to train others. As more experienced manufacturers reach retirement age, fewer mentors are available for this training method to be practical.

Even if mentors are readily available, these methods still lack standardization, and the quality of training can be highly variable. Without a standardized system to manage training and knowledge transfer, best practices are left up to the experience, training technique, and frankly, the mood of each employee.

Instructor-led/classroom training

Training in a classroom has the benefit of scalability, but significant downtime or productivity loss is often required. This makes classroom-based training inefficient from a production standpoint, and difficult to coordinate around multiple shifts.

Classroom methods can be necessary for certain types of training; however, comprehension and retention is at an all-time low in this type of learning environment. People learn best when they have strong visuals and can apply their knowledge in the proper context.

Manufacturing training has to change

Rather than defaulting to these traditional training methods, manufacturers must look toward new technology to supplement and formalize their strategies for training the incoming generations of workers.

Things are different now. Workers stay with a company only for two or three years, not 20 or 30. In fact, the average U.S. worker stays at his job for 4.6 years; for millennials, reduce that to 3.2 years.

The average U.S. worker stays at his job for 4.6 years; for millennials, reduce that to 3.2

3.2 years. Let that sink in.

Where previous generations had entire careers to develop skills, the current workforce has approximately 10 percent of that.

3.2 years to hire and train someone. 3.2 years to cultivate her skills as a valuable contributor to your organization. 3.2 years for her to provide process insights and improvements. And 3.2 years to capture that before she walks out the door.

Fortunately, the shifting workforce comes with its own advantages as well. They are known as “digital natives.” This means they are well equipped to leverage new technologies to improve training strategies.

With these shorter periods of employment, manufacturers can no longer rely on traditional training methods to get new hires up to speed. Instead, innovative and standardized approaches must be used to train new hires quickly and retain talent.

First published Feb. 12, 2020, on the Dozuki blog. 


About The Author

Leslie Bloom’s picture

Leslie Bloom

With a background in design and communications, Leslie Bloom leads Dozuki's efforts to create and distribute valuable resources related to standard work, training, and lean manufacturing.


Skill Gap 2

Thanks Leslie for the article  and some insight. First thing first, I need to sink in my mind 3.2 years as the average employment of new employees. This is an important fact and reminder to me as a trainer.

As i was reading, I was looking for more...that was how interesting and relevant the subject is.

I hope there will be part 3, with some idaes and recommendations on how training can be redesigned for new type of workers.