Skillful worker celebrate success in the factory

How manufacturers should invest beyond adaptive skills to build tomorrow’s workforce

Manufacturing 4.0, the talent shortage and worker desires require a refreshed approach to developing the manufacturing skills of tomorrow.

Talent serves as the lifeblood of any business. However, as manufacturers try to address the severe talent gap challenging the industry, many also recognize the time has come to elevate it as a strategic priority. To that end, more manufacturers recognize that the time is now ripe to radically disrupt how we look at capability — our encompassing term for the skills, competencies and talent supply across the industry.

As we learned in our previous study,1 adaptive skills, which enable individuals to transform their abilities as their demands and environment change, are increasingly viewed as the key to addressing this widening skills gap. However, new research also suggests there is no one-size-fits-all approach for manufacturers seeking to revamp their manufacturing and training programs. This means manufacturers need to be prepared to tailor their upskilling strategies to fully realize the transformative benefits.

Addressing the talent gap in the manufacturing industry requires organizations to make developing next-generation skills a strategic priority.

In brief:  

  • Manufacturers need to begin adopting next-generation skills that combine adaptive, digital, technical and process-related capabilities.
  • A critical blend of cross-discipline and role-based enablers creates a "manufacturing T" of capability.
  • Skills investments need to be prioritized based on the strategy and transformational needs of manufacturers.
  • Reskilling should follow an economic approach that blends skill definitions, assessments and meaningful learning to make better talent investments.

Skill investments must be focused on maximizing employee potential and serve as the transformative currency to facilitate career mobility, career advancement and value-based learning.

For this year’s study, we interviewed 19 manufacturing industry leaders across various manufacturing subsectors, including industrial products, chemicals and advanced materials, automotive, life sciences manufacturing, food and beverage manufacturing and building materials. We also asked participating leaders to complete a pre-interview survey to further illuminate insights about the top next-generation skills, critical skills gaps and employee-valued investments.

Following are some of our key takeaways.

Next-generation manufacturing skills are the culmination of adaptive, digital, technical and process-related competencies

While our research did not uncover a “silver bullet” for solving manufacturing talent challenges, we did identify next-generation skills that serve as foundational building blocks for nurturing organizational transformations and future fitting talent. Next-generation skills don’t only include skills of the future, but also those skills that will enable the transformational journey.

There continues to be resounding support for manufacturers to invest in adaptive skills. In addition to this clear area of focus, other priority skills categories are critical to future fitting the industry, namely digital, technical and process-related competencies. The culmination of these four categories embodies the next-generation skills for manufacturing, which enable all generations in the workforce to advance, adopt new ways of working and link capability to business demand.

  • Adaptive: skills that enable the workforce to transform their abilities as their demands and environment change
  • Digital: core skills that enable the workforce to interact with, analyze and program digital technologies and applications 
  • Technical: specialized knowledge and/or expertise that enables the workforce to perform tasks on the shop floor 
  • Process: base manufacturing process understanding that fosters continuous improvement 

Next-generation skills categories create a "manufacturing T" of capability that must be applied based on organizational strategy

We discovered that the most meaningful skills across the four categories of adaptive, digital, technical and process skills (our next-generation building blocks) also comprise a T of capability.

Visual graphic

  • Cross-discipline enablers (top of T): These are next-generation skills that are transferable across roles, thus they need to be trained broadly across the organization. These skills accelerate upskilling of highly technical capabilities and evolving skills requirements. They are also a key lever for facilitating alternative talent pool sourcing and talent mobility.
  • Role-based enablers (bottom of T): Next-generation skills represent those that are most applicable to the shop floor and empower improvements in productivity, quality and safety. Key drivers include role evolution and new skill requirements.

The T of capability provides a holistic perspective of the critical capabilities of tomorrow. Most organizations, however, will find it unrealistic to invest equally across the T. Therefore, manufacturers need to first reflect on their organizational purpose and strategy to determine where they are vs. where they want to be so that they can take intentional, targeted and meaningful action accordingly. Depending on factors such as organizational size and scale, industry maturity and the appetite for disruption, manufacturers should prioritize their investments in cross-discipline enablers (top of the T) vs. role-based enablers differently (bottom of the T).

The key to unlocking future-fitted capabilities and sustainable talent is an economically viable approach to reskilling

When evaluating whether reskilling investments are economically sound, manufacturers must evaluate three critical components — skill definition, skill assessment and learning experience value. The following three questions focus on identifying the right skills, assessing employee values and aligning learning delivery with engaging mechanisms.

  1. Are we investing in the right skills?
  2. Are the skills we are investing in desirable to employees to improve attraction, retention and employee experiences?
  3. Are we investing in skills with the right intensity?

Talent is central to the success of any business. In manufacturing, intellectual capital, agility and ingenuity have emerged as core features of sustained success. In a dynamic environment where competition for talent remains cutthroat, within and outside of the industry, manufacturing organizations must take decisive and targeted actions to retain and attract key talent.

Carolyn Lee and Gardner Carrick from the Manufacturing Institute contributed to this study.

Tony Demarinis, Cate Mork, Camila Venditti, Josh Schulman, Alexandra Kyle and Isaac O’Neal also contributed to developing this study and article.

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