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Workforce Challenges

Pete Cirak, Quality Assurance Director, Seal Dynamics
Pete Cirak, Quality Assurance Director, Seal Dynamics

Pete Cirak, Quality Assurance Director, Seal Dynamics

Whether aerospace, automotive, defense, medical, or any other manufacturing industry requiring a highly skilled workforce, there seems to be one common challenge between all of them, finding highly skilled people. A week does not go by without hearing from a supplier or fellow manufacturer about how they had to no quote an RFQ because they lack the people to support the work, or how they purchased a new mill, but cannot hire anyone to operate it. In the current market of low unemployment, manufacturers often find themselves stealing employees from other manufacturers only to have them move onto the next manufacturer offering better pay. Manufacturers that wait until the moment they need to fill a position to engage the workforce development community are already too late. Manufacturers should regularly join their regional manufacturing associations, local educational institutions, and community career and workforce development offices.

Regional manufacturing associations (RMAs) are dedicated to bringing value to their members. RMAs, composed primarily of volunteers from the local manufacturers, offers manufacturing companies a wealth of experience and networking resources. RMAs often hold workshops, seminars, expos, and other similar events that facilitate connecting manufacturers with the available workforce. These events will also provide insight into alternative solutions to resolving workforce shortages. Finding the RMA closest to your company is as easy as Googling “regional manufacturers association.”

 As the incumbent become out of the lower-tiered positions, they can backfill those position from the available workforce 

A resurgence of apprenticeship programs is occurring across the U.S., and these programs need industry partners to succeed. Apprenticeships and internships are why it is essential for manufacturers to be engaged with their local high schools and colleges to help develop the apprenticeship curriculum, provide industry partners, and promote visibility within the community. Apprenticeships and internships are arguably the best approaches to creating a structured talent pipeline for a manufacturing company, yet few companies provide either opportunity. Apprentices and interns share their experiences with friends and colleagues, which provides a higher level of exposure to the available workforce for the companies that offered opportunities. Manufacturers may miss the opportunity to recruit talent if the talent is not aware that they even exist.

Many areas throughout the nation have non-profit organizations that provide services to help match employers with employees or provide employers with services to help develop their incumbent workforce. Providing formal training and promoting within are a manufacturer’s most excellent tools for talent retention and recruitment. A manufacturer, like any other company, should develop and grow its incumbent workforce. As the incumbent become out of the lower-tiered positions, they can backfill those position from the available workforce. Henry Ford allegedly said, “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.” Companies should not be afraid to develop their employees faster than they can provide opportunities to grow into. When an employee outgrows their role, and an appropriate position is not available to move into, then the company should discuss the options available with the employee. One of those options might be to leave the company, and the company should help them find a new position elsewhere. If the company has been developing the entire workforce than there should be a person already identified to backfill the area. This, in turn, opens up a lower-tiered position, and so on. It is always easier to fill an entry-level position than it is a mid-level or senior-level, not to mention the effects associated with hiring the wrong person into an entry-level position is much less than a senior-level.

Manufacturers often create a workforce shortage problem through their hiring practices. Manufacturers will place job postings with a list of “required” skills and experience when all they should be looking for is someone with the right attitude and aptitude. If a company has a robust training platform, then they only need to bring on board those people that are ready and willing to learn and work and have the ability to learn the skills required to perform the tasks required for the position. Some of my best employees had little to no experience in the field when they started the job.

Although there are local, state, and national initiatives to improve the workforce shortage facing manufacturers in the U.S. it is necessary for manufacturing companies to take an active part in those legislative solutions as well as dealing with the problem head-on with some of the previous suggestions. Whatever action is taken, if a company waits until tomorrow, it will be too late. 

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