It’s no secret that industrial and manufacturing employers in the United States have been faced with a skills gap for quite some time.
That’s true for a variety of reasons, including the increasing integration of technology into industrial and manufacturing jobs as part of what some people call Industry 4.0 and/or advanced manufacturing.
That skills gap didn’t go away because of the COVID pandemic, and in fact the COVID pandemic brought with it increased use of tools such as online collaboration and communication platforms, which only increased the skills gap.
And now, as we begin to see some light at the end of the COVID tunnel, as organizations start moving more quickly toward returning to work, American employers are reporting that they’re having lots of trouble filling open job positions.
We’ll look at upskilling as one part of the solution to this even-larger skills gap in this article.
Before you read on, please feel free to download the Guide to Online Manufacturing Training below.
Reskilling and upskilling employees can help close at least part of this manufacturing & industrial skills gap. For a really insightful analysis, check this article from Deloitte on Reskilling, Upskilling & Outskilling.
But first, what do reskilling and upskilling mean, and how are they different?
By upskilling, we mean teaching an employee new skills they’ll use on their current job. Often, these skills may involve learning things like how to use new technologies as part of the current job. You can think of this as just updating the person’s current skills for their current job—just part of a continuous improvement and lifelong learning process. As technology continues to influence the way we work, it stands to reason that the need for upskilling will continue, too
By reskilling, we mean teaching employees new skills they’ll use in a different, new job. So now we’re talking about helping prepare current employees to move into an entirely different job by helping them acquire the knowledge and skills they’ll need to excel at that new position. So here we’re talking about people making literal (or other moves) in the organization as the need for some jobs and job skills decreases and the need for other jobs and job skills increases.
In a recent recorded discussion with learning & development professional Dr. Stella Lee, we discussed how COVID presented a challenge to L&D to “up their games,” including helping companies upskill and reskill employees. We encourage you to listen to the recorded interview with this respected learning professional for even more on this topic.
It would be great for employers if all employees upskilled themselves by themselves. But that’s not going to happen. There are a lot of reasons and it’s not because the employees are lazy or bad people—it’s because learning new skills is hard.
As a result, employers need to partner with employees in helping those employees upskill for their current jobs. This includes understanding what the current skills of each employee (on a personalized basis) and helping to determine which new skills the employee will need to continue to perform the current job at an optimum level.
Sometimes you’ve got to go backwards before you can go forward. And that may be true in helping employees upskill for their current job role.
A lot of those necessary new job skills are going to involve working with new technologies, and in many cases, that means manufacturing workers may need to develop some more fundamental skills in things like math, science, and computers. See our library of core industrial skills training for help on this.
Then, of course, you’ll need to help the employees learn to use those new technologies in the workplace.
Beyond that, problem-solving and troubleshooting will be necessary skills, as will be critical thinking, communication, and working on a team (see our Advanced Manufacturing Skills article for more on this).
And finally, employers will benefit from teaching employees skills to become lifelong learners. See our learning to learn article with Australian L&D professional Arun Pradhan for more on this.
At Vector, we’re here to help employers help employees on their upskilling journey. We’ve got many libraries of elearning courses on the essential topics for a modern manufacturing workplace and a learning management system to help deliver that training to employees.