Is there a shorter span to bridge the skills gap experienced by American manufacturing companies?
a case for a new technical workplace©
Things have turned significantly better for American manufacturing. But a growing skills gap threatens our success. There are fundamental societal and educational issues that need resolution over the long term. But the planning and design of the manufacturer’s workplace can have powerful impact in closing the skills gap, now. The concept of The New Technical Workplace© is a model that can help American manufacturers chart early success in gaining and sustaining global industry leadership.
Things have suddenly turned significantly better for American manufacturing.
Even before the Great Recession, when “offshoring” was one of the strategic by-words in business, it looked as if “American” was being driven from its historical link with manufacturing.
A surprising change has since taken place. Even with a mild growth projection from the IMF, American manufacturers expect to open 3.4 million jobs over the next decade.
Re-shoring is part of the trend, along with Baby Boomer retirements, and projected organic growth in the manufacturing sector from economic expansion is a key contributor, as well. .
But a growing “skills gap” threatens our success.
Similar to other changes in business, manufacturing work has changed. Automation, robotics, integrated technologies, 3-D printing, and a trend to more sophisticated and refined products all reshape the traditional image of manufacturing.
This new American manufacturing now requires a high level of skills across the spectrum of industry employment from technical work to engineering, science and design. Already, more than 50% of just the production work in manufacturing is in skilled occupations.
But the pace of this change has been so rapid that the workforce is unprepared. Two million of those projected jobs may not be filled because people with the required skills cannot be found.
Without these workers, process innovation and product development will not advance. Customers and consumers whose expectations are driven by the rapidly developing realization of a previously visionary future, when not satisfied, will make choices that threaten slower-moving manufacturers and even the overall pace of the economy.
There are fundamental societal and educational issues involved.
Manufacturing has a traditional stigma that invokes an image of a working environment that, for a large part, no longer exists. That image, however, has affected choices of careers and jobs.
Most teenagers, for example, do not have an interest in an industry perceived as dirty and dangerous and offering little opportunity for growth and advancement. Indeed, 85% of manufacturing executives admit that the image of the industry is a barrier to future talent attraction, even with a 20%higher compensation than earned in other industries.
In the meantime, educational programs are lagging. Technical training is only one part of the issue. Basic skills like teamwork and attendance have also fallen behind. American manufacturers are beginning to form new partnerships with schools and universities to change the image of industry, but this is a long-term proposition.
But the planning and design of the workplace can play an important role, now.
When we meet with potential clients in the manufacturing sector, we still find a workplace that was already two decades behind in the years just before the Great Recession.
Even though companies in the technical and technological domains were drawing attention while leading the thinking about the workplace, companies in the manufacturing domain were pushing people out of the workplace either by wrongly-targeted “mobility” programs or because of the relentless, soulless gray of the high-walled cube farms that characterized a workplace that had not been renewed sine the early ’80’s.
The New Technical Workplace© can help American manufacturers overcome the skills gap, achieve and sustain leadership, and chart early success.
While the industry develops strategies with long-range impacts, manufacturers need to to something now to sustain competitiveness in a globally competitive world.
Overcoming the image of the industry by modernizing the workplace is only a stop-gap move. Recognizing that the workplace is a strategic asset, assisting in attracting and developing the talent that assures competitive differentiation and market success, is the right move.
But making this right move requires different thinking about the workplace. No longer the container for a workforce overseen by an attendance-taking management, the next manufacturers workplace, the New Technical Workplace, will need to nurture an innovative and collaborative workforce, self-motivated, engaged with customers and partners, working on interesting problems and supported by a rich infrastructure of social and technological toolsets.
The New Technical Workplace© is shaped around these five considerations –
Projects – A workplace shaped around he organizational diagram obscures why people are there in the first place. Top talent wants to work on cool things that solve big or interesting problems. This is not an abstract pursuit nor an interest in an isolated function. Projects are the new organizing units in the manufacturer’s workplace. People connect, collaborate and develop great products in teams, around challenges, and motivated by comprehensible purposes. The changing flows and scales of team presents planning and design challenges, but meeting those challenges changes organizational performance.
Product – A company’s products are the principal motivators of its workforce. In most cases, people come to work for the manufacturer because of a passion for the product. The product is also a powerful catalyst for the transfer of knowledge and the generation of innovation. When the multidisciplinary team in product development projects comes together – engineering, design, marketing, resourcing – the product becomes a talking piece where each discipline contributes to the others and where experience moves rapidly through generations to build new expertise.
Presence – A continual awareness of culture, society and customer reinforces focus and commitment to purpose. Bringing in the world outside assists in the continuous tuning of products, features and benefits. Direct participation by the customer or indirect representation though visual artifacts can inform experiments, support rapid iterations of prototypes, and enable quick strategic pivots in the quest to develop products of real and perceived differential value to customers.
Proximity – Speed is a core need for a leading business in a competitive market, indeed for any business. Consider multiple dimensions of proximity when planning the workplace. Consider both physical proximity and time proximity. Consider both proximity within the walls as well as in the region. Consider proximity in values and in productivity. Consider, at least, releasing people from assigned workstations and allow them to organize and reorganize the workspace to pull together the people and resources they need for responsiveness and agility.
Platforms – The evolution of projects and the iterations of products, the spatial realignment of people and worksettings, the introduction of large 3-dimensional artifacts, the accommodation of people who have never been in the organization's space all mean that the best workspaces will be rich with the resources that support and power leading teams. This will take new thinking on the parts of HR, CRE, FM, IT and the design firms, and all of their partners, to conceive of the workplace as a resource-rich and technology-robust environment in which new payback metrics are surprisingly short.
Reconsidering the places and spaces of work for American manufacturers offers the shortest path to closing the talent gap. Each of these components and their combination support the actions and activities that will draw talent toward the American manufacturer, engage them in the broader purpose of the company and the industry, and create and transfer the knowledge, experience and expertise that builds leaders in companies and leading companies in their industry.
Some of the data used in this article was derived from "The Skills Gap In U.S. Manufacturing by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute