Ways to Close Your Industrial Maintenance Skills Gap

Ways to Close Your Industrial Maintenance Skills Gap
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Manufacturing employers are faced with serious skills gap issues for many of their job roles these days. Industrial maintenance is one of those—highly-skilled maintenance techs don’t grow on trees; many are leaving their current employer, for any number of reasons, for positions with new manufacturers; and even people just breaking into the field are getting good salaries, hiring bonuses, and other perks are employers are desperate to fill position and keep assets in good running condition. 

In this article, we’ll give you some tips for closing your skills gap. These will include providing training (and online training) to your maintenance techs, but we’ll give other tips as well.

Tips for Upskilling Your Maintenance Workforce

Give the items listed below some consideration and put the ones that seem likely to help you close your industrial maintenance skills gap into practice. 

Acknowledge Your Skills Gap Problem 

The first step to solving a problem is recognizing you have one. That’s true in many walks of life, but it’s also true when it comes to job skills, productivity, efficiency, and important maintenance-specific things like reliability and production uptime

So if you’ve got your eyes on your organization’s OEE or other maintenance-related metrics, and you’re not liking what you’re seeing, it's worth considering if your workers have the proper skills necessary to perform the maintenance tasks they’re being asked to perform.

It’s likely that a skills gap is part of your problem. Although it’s also worth noting that there may be other problems dragging down workplace efficiency and production as well (for example, see our articles on the “BEM” human performance improvement (HPI) model and on wastes as defined in lean manufacturing). 

Create a Skills Map 

It sounds like a good idea to close your skills gap—but do you know what skills your workers need? That’s where a skills map comes into play. 

Before you rush out and create training to upskill workers, it’s going to pay to reflect upon which skills your maintenance workers in different positions need.

It’s a good idea to partner with the HR department on this. First, because the job descriptions they have for your maintenance techs should have the answer there for you already. So if that’s true, congratulations! You’re ready to go to the next step. But if not, it’s a good idea to work with HR and update those job descriptions so you’ll know which skills are needed for each maintenance job role, thereby killing two birds with one stone. 

And don’t stop with what’s needed now. Give some time to the future, as well. What still do you need to begin helping workers acquire now or soon so they can use them a little later down the road?

Determine Reasons for the Skills Gap 

Next, take a moment to consider why you’re experiencing your current skills gap. Sure, some of it is because of larger societal issues, such as the Great Resignation of 2022 or staffing problems due to the COVID pandemic. But others are going to be more unique to your workplace, and could possibly include a poor workplace culture or low pay that’s driving workers to different employers. 

You’ll find that some of the causes of your skills gap are things that training can help solve, and others are not. Do what you can about those that are not related to training—some may be under your control—and we’ll continue talking about issues related to upskilling your maintenance workers below.

Build a Training Program and Tell HR about It (So They Can Tell Maintenance Job Applicants)

One of your next steps is going to be to build a training program to help your maintenance employees develop the job skills they need. And we’ll explain a little more about how to do that shortly. 

But it’s important that you keep communicating with your friends in HR while you’re doing this. We already mentioned the importance of making sure they know the skills needed for each of your job roles, and knowing that will help them screen job applicants for your open maintenance positions. 

But it’s also important to let HR know you have (or will soon) have a maintenance training program in place. That’s so they can tell well-qualified job applicants about the training program, because those job applicants are more willing to accept a maintenance position at your organization if they see you’ve made an investment in providing training and that there’s an opportunity in your organization for career growth. 

If you’d like to learn more about putting this idea into motion, please listen to our Developing a Maintenance Tech Training Program recorded, on-demand webinar. In this webinar, we talk with a real-life customer from the facilities maintenance industry who came to us to try to solve a problem they were having with hiring large numbers of maintenance techs only to have them leave the company very quickly. The reason—no training and no visible career paths. The solutions—training program development. The results—outstanding, including lower costs for attracting and hiring talent, better employee engagement and retention, a more skilled workforce, happier clients, and more. 

Understand how People Learn

Don’t rush off and design a training program without first understanding how people acquire knowledge, develop stills, remember things, and later transfer all that stuff at the right time and place on the job. 

If you’re lucky, you’ve got a skilled instructional designer or L&D department that works for your organization. If you do, buy that person a lunch and thank them in advance, because that’s soon going to be your best friend. If you don’t—or even if you do—consider partnering with a training provider that specializes in industrial maintenance training and has a team of highly skilled learning scientists on staff. 

This involves basic things like the ADDIE training development method, learning objectives, evidence-based training design, steering clear of learning myths, and a lot more. 

Design Training for How People Learn

This is an extension of the previous section, but once you understand how people learn, design your training to match. 

There’s NO better place to start learning about this than from Julie Dirksen’s classic book Design for How People Learn. If you don’t own a copy, go out and buy two—one for yourself and give the second one to someone else—anyone else—you work with. It’s that good!

You might also want to listen to our recorded discussion with Julie Dirksen on designing training for how people learn

Consider “Basic” and/or Common Training Needs

While designing your training program, think of common training needs maintenance techs (or most any worker) will need help with, including:

Add Online Maintenance Training Capabilities 

Even at a small organization, you’re unlikely to roll out a successful maintenance training program without the use of some online training. And if you’re a larger organization, with multiple locations, maintenance techs on different shifts, and so on, online training is definitely necessary. 

But that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Because we use online tools for all sorts of things in our modern worklife—why shouldn’t we use online training too? Plus—bonus here—studies have consistently shown that online training can be just as effective or as effective as other forms of training. 

What you’re going to need, to start with, are:

  • A learning management system (LMS) 
  • Online maintenance training courses (also sometimes called elearning courses) 

Happily, Vector Solutions offers both, with training solutions tailor-made for industrial maintenance training needs. 

Our online maintenance training courses feature multimedia (including 3-D animations). We created them in partnership with our own training development experts and with maintenance subject matter experts and they include multiple courses on each of the following maintenance training topics:

  • Reliability
  • Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) 
  • Lean and 5S
  • Asset Condition Management 
  • Quality 
  • Blueprints & Diagrams 
  • Computer Basics 
  • Equipment and Tools
  • Industrial Materials
  • Math Concepts 
  • Science Concepts
  • Troubleshooting
  • Welding
  • Electrical Maintenance, including safety, electrical theory, controls, motors, circuits, maintenance fundamentals, schematics, test equipment, wiring, generators, and the National Electrical Code 
  • Mechanical maintenance, including air systems; basic plant sciences, bearings, compressors, conveyors, fans, HVAC, heat exchangers, hydraulics, refrigeration, lubrication, mechanical drives, pipes and valves, pneumatics, seals, shaft alignment, vehicle maintenance, and vibrational analysis 

Plus, if you maintain your facilities as well as your “money makers,” we’ve got an entire series of facilities maintenance online training courses for you, too.

Additionally, we also provide a learning management system, or LMS, which is specifically designed for industrial/manufacturing employers. Our LMS is a cloud-based software application to manage and administer your entire training program—for maintenance as well as everything else, and for online training as well as training that occurs “offline.” Read this article about learning management systems (LMS) to learn more.

Conclusion: Create a Culture of Organizational Learning for Continuous Skill Growth in Maintenance, Reliability & Operations 

We understand industrial/manufacturing organizations like yours are facing a skills gap and we’re here to help you train up those maintenance techs! After all, we believe learning is the foundation of all organizational success.

Before you go, please download the Guide to Online Maintenance Training (just click the button at the bottom of this article) and listen to our recorded, on-demand webinar with Dr. Klaus Blache of the University of Tennessee’s Reliability & Maintainability Center (UT-RMC) discussing how to create a Learning Culture to Improve Organizational Learning, Reliability & Maintainability.

Please contact us if you'd like to see some of our courses or the LMS in a preview, and have a great day!

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