The Coming U.S. Manufacturing Talent Gap And War.


HR Leaders and recruiters responsible for talent management within the manufacturing sector might just have one of the tougher gigs going right now.  Since the beginning of 2011, the sector has added over 150,000 jobs to the economy. Economists forecast a continuing trend, and predict manufacturing employment will increase in 2012. Couple this the recent trade pacts that were passed with South Korea, Panama, and  Columbia and, US manufacturing merits some confidence.

As an outplacement guy, I witnessed manufacturing shed 5 million jobs during the previous decade as well as the decline of its overall contribution to the economy.  The sector has a long climb to broader stability, and HR and talent management will play a significant role in the sector’s success or failure.

A recent KPMG International survey of US manufacturing executive’s project that 41% plan to hire in the coming year. Wonderful, but they are looking for very different skills and skill sets.

GIA’s (Global Intelligence Alliance) survey of 95 global manufacturing executives found that the lack of workforce skills is the top concern for manufacturers across the world; ahead of concerns over lending, oil, regulation, and taxes.

The technology of US manufacturers has advanced sharply and many have struggled to keep pace with the changes. The National Association of Manufacturers recently reported that 80% are having difficulty finding qualified talent. Making the shortage worse is the retirement of a generation of implementers that drove Quality, Lean, Six-Sigma, JIT, and many other successful strategies.  Make no mistake; US manufacturing would still be kicking ass globally if not for questionable monetary, foreign trade, and social policy.

Manufacturing jobs are sophisticated and require specialized training for increasingly automated processes. The lack of talent facing manufacturers during this period of high unemployment is a challenging paradox.  Attracting talent is a hard sell due to the loss of manufacturing jobs during the past decade, and the perception that manufacturing is not a viable long-term career path.  Technical schools were underfunded before the current budget deficit issues facing many states pitting this generation of manufacturing executives against a set workforce challenges with enormous scope and complexity.

Manufacturers need workers who have a technical skill set or skilled trades that machines do not. There is a war for these employees caused by simple supply and demand.  HR leaders and staffing pros that need to acquire this talent first need to fully understand the operational needs of their businesses, the skill sets to support those needs, and then find the talent.

What HR & talent management pros can do once they realize this talent war is real.

Know your business; not just your people, and where they reside on the org chart. Spend time with R&D to learn what’s in development, the likelihood of it going to market, where and when it will be built, and what the key material components are likely to be.  Know your plants, their capacities, equipment, processes, and internal and external customers.  If you’re in corporate HR get out to the plants or at a minimum ratchet up communications with your site HR teams to get them aware, and assessing. Know it so you can staff it ahead of the game or you won’t survive.

  • You’ll likely need to fill the pipeline with these skill sets at a minimum.
  • Hourly talent with high-tech skills that also possess engineering skills.
  • Workers with knowledge of mechanical & electrical engineering processes
  • Those with the ability to work with computerized systems.
  • More talent than you currently has with the ability to read & write machine programming code.
  • Those who to read manufacturing blueprints & operate automated manufacturing systems.
  • Workers capable of operating hydraulic, pneumatic, and electrical systems.
  • More Manufacturing Software Engineers, Manufacturing Process Engineers Automated Systems Engineers & Supply Chain Engineers.

Manufacturers need workers that have at least a working knowledge of computers, mathematics, and an ability to think critically. These baseline skills will only keep you even, not ahead.  Automation has eliminated manual tasks, brining focus to machine programming, technical troubleshooting, and preventative maintenance.   Many operations need technicians who can fix assembly lines by restoring bad code in plant’s operating software.

  • Where to find, and how to develop the talent.
  • Engage in mapping of core processes with manufacturing leaders, identifying those employees that own core processes and, then deploy a knowledge transfer process to successors.
  • Be ready to manage the “retirees” that you need to keep through flexible work plans, consulting agreements, and contract work.
  • Establish how these employees will be led, managed, and communicated with.  They’ll be targeted by others, and will have leverage through high demand for their services.  Many Gen X, Y, Z, and Millennials work to live; not live to work.  They’ll leave, not organize a union.
  • Agitate leaders to define a culture that is not perceived as institutional, but with process. One that has entrepreneurial spirit, but is secure.  Be first.  Be the employer of choice.
  • You’ll need to re-write most of your job descriptions (with operations) to accurately reflect the functions of the position. If those are off, you’ll get garbage in the pipeline.
  • The compensation plan must accurately reflect the market value of these new, evolving, and in some cases hybrid roles. They will need to be pliable, and easy to communicate.
  • You’ll need a plan to accommodate or “manage out” those that need to go due to performance.  Performance management skills and process will be critical as the talent gap closes.
  • Go deep with succession planning to leverage cross functional assignments and bench strength at the manufacturing level.
  • Place local management on technical college boards to influence curriculum for your needs.
  • Push internships ensuring potential talent for your pipeline is tapping early.
  • Start & brand a technical program at your facility as a feeder system for the best and brightest.

Manufacturing has, for some time now become a knowledge-based profession where work is accomplished through critical thinking and know-how rather than through physical labor. The shortage of educated talent ranging from those with trade school certifications to a bachelor’s degree, as well as those with trade based labor skills is real.  The HR Leadership & Talent Management challenge is equally real.  As comedian Jeff Foxworthy would say…. “Here’s Your Sign.”

 

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Posted on October 13, 2011, in Employee Engagement, HR Management & Leadership., Staffing & Talent Acquisition, Talent Management and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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