Top 5 Methods for Closing the Skills Gap

The workplace skills gap continues to widen and is expected to persist, according to the latest Skills Gap Report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute(1). Here’s a quick take on the top five suggestions made by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte for closing the skills gap.

1. Automate

Automation is booming. Industry Week notes that 11,000 cobots were sold globally in 2015 but that sales will reach 150,000 this year, and by 2025 the number could be 600,000.

In a Chicago Tribune article, “Robots are coming! Run for your lives?: Maybe not. Automated manufacturing may help, not hurt, American workers,”(2) the authors quote John Morehouse, director of the Center of Innovation for Manufacturing in Georgia, on the dilemmas of adding automation and retaining employees.

“If companies in the United States don’t keep up with automation, they’re not going to be able to compete with those companies who do,” said Morehouse. “There are jobs that will be eliminated due to robotics and automation but future job predictions show larger openings for manufacturing jobs in the future that aren’t on the assembly line.”

Morehouse believes that it is hard to retain manufacturing employees because people do not want to stay in mundane, repetitive jobs. “But if you can automate those tasks as a company,” he said, “that changes the type of workforce you need.” With automation in place, new roles are created that give employees more job satisfaction.

2. Beef Up In-House Training

In-house training is a mainstay but it may need a boost to meet today’s training needs. Along with consistently modernizing equipment to produce more and better and faster, businesses should know that modernizing training systems can lead to more, faster and better learning. Learning management systems are one avenue, and they range from bare-bones to very advanced systems.

Microsoft has a product at the far end of the advanced learning spectrum. The company’s HoloLens is a cloud-connected headset/vision screen that uses AR (augmented reality) to project images or data onto one’s field of vision. The Pentagon uses the Microsoft technology for state-of-the-art training of soldiers. Truck manufacturer Kenworth uses HoloLens for training its factory assembly workers.

3. Hire Experienced Retirees

Many manufacturers have aging employees who know their jobs inside and out. Some manufacturers pair soon-to-retire employees with younger protégés, giving the gurus a chance to pass on valuable knowledge and techniques. Too few manufacturers, however, actually leverage their retiring workforce. The Deloitte/MFI report notes that only 9% of US manufacturing companies were creating roles for their retired/retiring workers.

Michelin North America has a HR program for tapping the value of retirees. During the off-boarding interview, HR staff asks if the employee is interested in future work as a retiree. Interested retirees are then called upon for short-term project work as needed.

With predictions for a “gray wave” – a surge of older Americans expected to be the fastest-growing part of the workforce – manufacturers might do well to retain and rehire their retiring baby boomers.

4. Employ Gig Workers, Etc.

When the Deloitte/MFI report was published, roughly 40% of American workers were gig workers or working on a contingency or part-time basis. Now, with so much of the American workforce unemployed, there are even more potential employees who may be looking for unconventional employment.

Manufacturers may find it hard to imagine using contingency workers or gig workers, yet there may be projects, peak production times or short-term custom runs where hiring “to meet the need” could work.

The long-running quest to find enough workers may lead to new employment models and manufacturers may find a place for ambitious, quality-conscious gig workers.

5. Tap Public-Private Partnerships

Statistics show that only 20% of manufacturers partner with government and just 30% partner with private education or training institutes for their training needs. This is a fertile area for manufacturers to cultivate.

Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana is a public-private apprenticeship partnership that collaborates with local industries and receives funding from the US government. This year Ivy Tech is launching a US Department of Labor-supported program that will run for four years, serve 3,200 apprentices and include curriculum geared for digital manufacturing.

Every state has workforce development programs that connect students at institutions to manufacturers. These resources are available to be tapped by manufacturers who take the time to find them and get involved.

(1) 2018 Skills Gap Report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute,

(2)”Robots are coming! Run for your lives?: Maybe not. Automated manufacturing may help, not hurt, American workers.” Buscaglia, Marco and Tribune Content Agency.–tms–careercarer-d20190804-20190804-story.html.