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Skills Gap Hampers Manufacturing Growth, Says Tooling U-SME Report

The manufacturing skills gap continues to hinder many industries—including orthopaedics—and represents a significant impediment to manufacturing growth and the adoption of new technologies, according to the recently-released Industry Pulse: 2018 Manufacturing Workforce Report.

Compiled by Tooling U-SME, a provider of manufacturing training solutions, the report highlights the most pressing training and development pain points that manufacturers encounter today, and challenges they will face in the next three years.

Respondents represented a wide range of industries; approximately 10% operate in the medical device industry. Approximately 40% of individual respondents serve in human resources and talent/training development and 34% hold leadership and management positions.

The results of the report are in line with what we’ve been hearing from both device company and contract manufacturer readers. Based on survey results, Tooling U-SME identified the top business challenge for manufacturers as finding, upskilling and onboarding talent, including CNC machinists, CNC programmers and engineers. “Manufacturers recognize the challenge of the skills gap,” the report noted, “but far too many fail to upgrade or change their workforce development and training from what they've always done.”

Further, the report explains that overlooking this factor, which in large part falls under a company’s own control, exacerbates the problems posed by the skills gap and retiring workforce.

”Manufacturing is in the midst of a new industrial revolution that requires a workforce equipped with new, advanced technology skills,” said Jeannine Kunz, Vice President of Tooling U-SME. “Putting learning and development on the back burner is not an option for companies that want to succeed in today’s ever-changing and increasingly competitive world. Leaders, including senior executives and management, must make their workforce a strategic priority if they want their companies to maximize growth.”

Part of maximizing growth is embracing the fact that advanced technologies—automation and 3D printing, for example—are changing the way companies approach manufacturing. In light of their increased adoption, Tooling U-SME recommends that manufacturers train their workforces to “fully understand equipment and technology so they can improve processes and generate new ideas. Fully trained employees drive innovation.”

Some of the benefits afforded by advanced technology include increased efficiency, improved quality, shorter cycle times, optimized energy usage and reduced costs. Despite these opportunities, in many cases technology is accelerating at a pace faster than that of people development.

“I would agree that technology is advancing very quickly,” said Matt Morgan, Regional Sales Manager at Schütte, a builder of CNC multi-spindle and grinding machines for the device company and supplier markets. “However, in our case at Schütte, I would not say that it is advancing faster than our people’s ability to keep up with it. Generally, a type of machine technology changes a little at a time with updates and subtle differences that our engineers deal with as it happens.

“The challenge occurs when a new technology comes out that our people have not worked with before, necessitating training to take place before the technology reaches our customers.”

Training, as the Tooling U-SME report details, is indeed the crux of the matter. According to the report, despite the clear need for stronger training and development, only two out of five manufacturers (41%) agree that their company trains people to develop skills.

For Schütte, “there are training courses that can be taken at our factory in Cologne, Germany as well as training provided at our customer’s facility by our applications engineers and service personnel,” Morgan explained. “When a customer purchases a piece of our equipment, we will train them to use the machine and software for their specific needs and support them long after the initial training to ensure success.”

Other notable findings from the report include:

  • The majority of respondents say that they will face significant challenges in developing a skilled workforce for the next three years, specifically in finding experienced new hires (99% of respondents); upskilling the incumbent workforce (92%) and onboarding new employees (84%).

  • Retaining trained employees is also a challenge; 43% of respondents average 20% or higher annual turnover.

  • Respondents blame lack of management commitment and resources—e.g., funding, time and training—for not investing in workforce learning and development.

What can companies do to combat the skills gap and maintain a highly-skilled workforce?

“Developing a pipeline of highly trained employees takes an investment of funding and time but will pay off with the right strategy,” the Tooling U-SME manufacturing report states. “Manufacturers that manage and train their workforces differently frequently outperform their peers; however, [some] companies need help just getting started.” Companies that fit this mold, or those looking to strengthen their workforce, can start by following these four best practices, recommended by Tooling U-SME:

  1. Identify the business objectives. A successful training and development program must have the support of senior management. How? Show the ways that your training program can—or could possibly—impact your company’s bottom line.

  2. Adopt performance-based competency modeling. “Having a system in place to codify knowledge and skills required for a specific job role is critical to ensure individuals are successful in their roles,” the report says.” Is a potential skills gap of high concern at your company? This model ensures that institutional knowledge is passed on to the next generation as veteran workers retire. Use competency modeling as a structured way to determine job progression, skills assessment and workforce planning. The report also notes that a well-defined competency framework and an “aligned learning plan eliminates unnecessary or redundant training and maximizes training time to develop the knowledge and skills an employee needs.”

  3. Structure your on-the-job training (OJT) program. Performance-based training programs should also require the use of standardized OJT tools and techniques to ensure consistent delivery of training. In other words, train the trainers.

  4. Develop and execute a measurable impact study. In the early stages of program design, a company should set and record goals related to production, quality, innovation and employee retention. By creating a measurable impact, companies can check progress and determine whether goals were met, and why or why not.

*Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Rob Meyer is ORTHOWORLD’s Senior Editor. Please send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..