HR Management & Compliance

Partnerships and Training—Keys to Addressing the Manufacturing Skills Gap

Yesterday’s Advisor featured expert Jeff Owens’ take on the manufacturing skills gap and how employers have to work to change perceptions of the industry. Today, Owens elaborates on how employers can forge partnerships and conduct appropriate training in order to close the skills gap.

Owens joined Advanced Technology Services, Inc. (ATS) in 1988 and has been chief operating officer and president since 2004. He serves on the board of the Central Illinois Economic Development Corporation and is a member of the Illinois Business Roundtable.

Forge Partnerships

Beyond getting the message out, employers need to forge stronger partnerships with vocational schools and manufacturing programs at community colleges. Skills for America’s Future, an initiative founded by now-Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and administered by The Aspen Institute, is a clearinghouse for ideas and strategies to increase partnerships between employers and community colleges. The program has already helped establish 300 alliances that span dozens of employers and more than 230 community colleges.

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Snap-On, the well-known tool and equipment manufacturer, is a leader in Skills for America’s Future. For more than 50 years the company has been involved in technical education efforts. In partnership with Skills for America’s Future, the company has started offering curriculum-based product certifications through technical high schools and community colleges. Today, the Snap-On Certificate Program is offered at 60 institutions, providing certifications useful to multiple trades and disciplines.
Besides certificate programs, employers can partner with technical and trade schools by offering scholarships, internships, and work-study programs. These contributions not only raise awareness and change attitudes, but also connect employers with the brightest, most talented, and motivated students, thereby creating a natural recruitment pipeline.

Conduct Training

Finally, manufacturing companies need to consider adding or enhancing their own training programs. SkillPoint, Advanced Technology Services’ in-house training division, provides maintenance technicians with the skills they need for specific employers, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) equipment, and classes of machinery.
SkillPoint now offers over 300 hands-on training stations and more than 70 unique courses, all of which are taught by experienced maintenance professionals. Classes can be set up in company facilities any hour of the day or night—and a host of online and customized course options meet the needs of any employer or employee.
In-house vocational training can solve many problems, from satisfying isolated or individualized training needs to covering diverse, factory-wide skills acquisition. It’s critical when considering vocational training alternatives to adequately assess a company’s existing workforce skills first, in order to arrive at a cost-effective and strategic solution.

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It’s estimated that a 3.5% increase in worker productivity—a 17-minute per day increase—can yield an annual 200% return on investment on the cost of offering a single vocational course. Whether taught by staff trainers or administered by outside specialists, vocational training at the company level can yield significant benefits—and go a long way toward developing the existing workforce, as well as teaching new workers.
The manufacturing skills gap is perhaps the greatest HR dilemma to come along in decades. Waiting for schools and public sector agencies to attack the problem, however, is not enough. Whether large or small, companies need to play a direct role in changing perceptions, increasing opportunities, and, where necessary, providing vocational training themselves. Only then can manufacturers rely on a new generation of skilled, motivated workers that will meet—and ultimately win—the global competitive challenge.

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