What manufacturers can do about the growing workforce skills gap

The world of work is changing rapidly. As manufacturers upgrade to more intelligent machines that can produce goods faster and more cheaply, they’re faced with a people problem. Human workers still needed to operate the machines and optimize the line. Unfortunately, their skills are not keeping pace with the technology that powers the advanced machines. In many ways, worker skills are “expiring” at a pace we haven’t seen in recent history. According to one analysis, evolving technology combined with the exit of retiring workers means that by 2028, U.S. manufacturers will be faced with a 2.4 million worker shortage due to the skills gap. Let’s take a look at some of the strategies a manufacturer might deploy to minimize the impact of the workforce skills gap.

Shifting the hiring mindset

If your manufacturing facility is in an area where skilled workers with relevant experience are in short supply due to the nature of your location — let’s say it’s in a rural area with few similar facilities — it creates an ongoing challenge. If your team has baby boomer employees who are nearing retirement, this can create something of a crisis. That’s where you have to get strategic and future-focused with your workforce. Instead of following the traditional recruit, evaluate and hire route, look at your workforce as a resource that is developed and trained in-house. Here’s what that might look like.

Rethink the job description

Rather than looking for a true fit with skills and work history, hire based on other qualities, like values, work ethic and interest in developing specific skills.

Start an employee development program

This program can be for new high-potential hires along with current employees who want to grow within the organization. Pair these workers with skilled employees for ongoing training and mentorship. But be mindful: These types of programs require planning and oversight. Otherwise, you run the risk of cultivating resentment and burnout within your skilled employees. Being intentional, having a plan, and keeping employees from being overworked will be key.

Build industry-education alliances

Part of the solution can start with school — your future workforce. As an industry, connecting with educators and instructors in your community can help you make inroads on the skills deficit. You can do this through initiatives that have already been created by business groups and educational facilities. (Or, start an industry-education alliance from the ground up.) Doing so can help instructors and teachers update and optimize their curriculum, add training opportunities and build the skills that will get students in better alignment with the needs of the 21st century workforce. Read more about the power of these collaborations here.

Rethink the manufacturing line

Perhaps updating secondary packaging equipment is part of your overall strategy in streamlining production. Have you considered how the selection of the equipment itself can have an impact on addressing the workforce skills gap? In addition to speed, innovation and quality, here are some other key aspects of the design to consider so you can bridge, rather than increase, the workforce gap.
  • A unified HMI concept across the entire line. When different machines have controls that are similar to each other, responding in ways that are easy to predict, it streamlines the training process.
  • Access to diagnosis and recovery tools, so the operator can easily identify the cause of the fault and fix it quickly.
  • Automation of key features to reduce hands-on time as well as faults.
  • A data collection system that helps production managers analyze the events of the production cycle, so they can pass along detailed, useful feedback to the machine operators, with directions that will bring better results.
Ready to optimize your production line with secondary packaging machines that support your team’s ability to keep things running? Get in touch with a Douglas team member now to learn more about how our line of innovative secondary packaging solutions can be completely customized to your unique needs.