The manufacturing industry has faced numerous challenges in recent years, but one of the most pressing (and enduring) is a persistent skills gap. As the Baby Boomer generation nears retirement, manufacturing companies stand to lose approximately 25% of their workforce. Combine this with the more than 1.4 million pandemic-related manufacturing job losses and an increasing need for industry modernization, and all signs point toward needing to recruit, train, and retain new manufacturing talent. Optimizing the onboarding process is an opportunity for the industry to address these challenges and prepare for the future.
Let’s discuss the importance of manufacturing onboarding, particularly as it relates to the skills gap and labor shortage.
Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute’s 2021 report estimates that the manufacturing skills gap will leave 2.1 million jobs unfilled by 2030. As the industry faces a wave of hiring, onboarding is an opportunity to provide new workers with critical skills, educate them about the industry, and lay the groundwork for upskilling and reskilling. In the following sections, we’ll briefly look at how effective onboarding can address the three big drivers behind this skills gap: demographic shifts associated with the retirement of experienced, highly skilled workers; ongoing technological advances; and pandemic-related hiring changes.
Baby boomers are retiring from manufacturing jobs more quickly than they are being replaced, so companies will soon have a large population of new workers, many of whom won’t have significant prior experience. This demographics-related “brain and skills” drain is nothing new, but it is a growing concern for manufacturers.
Effective onboarding can help kickstart knowledge acquisition and skill development for new employees. This strengthens the skills pipeline and accelerates the process of new hires to competency.
As the manufacturing industry adapts to technological advances, manufacturing jobs increasingly require new skills – skills that new hires don’t always have. It may have been the case in the distant past that workers only needed a strong work ethic and basic understanding of manufacturing processes, but those days are fast disappearing.
At today’s increasingly-automated manufacturing sites, workers often need to have basic computer skills (such as Word, Excel, and email); be able to interface with Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and troubleshoot software concerns; and work alongside robots and other aspects of advanced manufacturing. Likewise, there’s a much greater emphasis on problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, communication, and even lifelong learning/learn-to-learn skills that keep an ever-advancing manufacturing skill set sharp.
Onboarding is an opportunity to educate employees about these advances and lay the groundwork for technological proficiency, and with Vector Solutions’ Core Industrial Skills Library, available with our partner BizLibrary, manufacturing workers can gain pertinent skills with engaging, self-paced online training courses such as “Databases, Spreadsheets, and Word Processing” and “Networks: Fiber Optic Systems.”
As if the demographic and technological challenges weren’t enough, the COVID-19 pandemic made manufacturing onboarding more critical – and more challenging. Since COVID-19 has displaced many workers from their former careers, leaving them to begin new careers with little, if any, of the necessary job skills. Manufacturing companies have been faced with the challenge of preparing these newly hired workers, many from entirely different industries, for their new roles.
Additionally, since COVID outbreaks can impact entire components of a manufacturer’s workforce, it’s increasingly important to cross-train workers during onboarding so they can take over different roles when employees are quarantined due to COVID exposure or infection. This ongoing risk has increased the need for more comprehensive onboarding and more flexible employees with wider skill sets.
While we hope that the light at the end of the COVID tunnel is just around the bend, it’s not yet clear when this problem will go away – and regardless, organizations should strengthen their onboarding programs so they’re more resilient when the next “black swan” event affects their labor force.
As you develop your onboarding curriculum, remember that it isn’t a one-time, short-term event, but rather an important first step in each employee’s manufacturing career, and one that lays the groundwork for future learning. When designing your onboarding program, think about intermittent training that builds upon itself or even repeats itself (incorporating spaced learning for improved retention) over at least 90 days and most likely throughout an entire year.
Manufacturing onboarding is an opportunity to address industry and workforce challenges head-on – make the most of it.
Effective training is an important component of manufacturing onboarding. To help, we have created a free Manufacturing Training Guide that provides a step-by-step method to help you design and create the best training program that you can.