Closing the Skills Gap

By John Toole posted 07-31-2018 04:31 PM


As of May 4, 2018, the unemployment rate in the United Sates was 3.9 percent, the lowest it has been in 17 years. While building new facilities and adding more jobs is great for the economy, it continues to magnify our dilemma: how do we fill maintenance positions with properly skilled trade persons? This issue is compounded by the failure of incumbent trade persons to stay abreast of skills needed to maintain the constant advancements in technology.

We constantly hear that qualified maintenance people are simply not available in the labor market. This trend is driven by two major factors:  

  • Fewer people are pursuing skilled trade careers – Less than 5 percent of high school graduates are choosing to enter a skilled trade.
  • An aging maintenance workforce – According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2017 report, 62 percent of skilled crafts persons working in mechanical and electrical crafts are over 45 years of age.

Based on the above statistics, if something is not done soon to develop the skills needed to maintain new factories as well as existing ones, the manufacturing sector of the economy will face a huge problem. The following is a process that, if implemented and supported by company leadership, would positively influence the skills gap within an organization and contribute to overall performance.

Step 1: The most important step in the process is to gain the support of top management by ensuring they understand the process, the resources needed to properly implement it and the benefits to the company.

Step 2: Define the requirements of the trade positions and the various levels within the positions, from entry level to journey worker. This will assure availability of company assets.

Step 3: Determine what a trade person needs to know and what they need to do to qualify for each level. This can be accomplished through focus groups of incumbent trade persons and management personnel.

Step 4: Using a third party, assess incumbent trade persons to determine the knowledge and skills gaps within the organization. This has to be accomplished in a non-threatening way and as a training-needs assessment. Make sure everyone understands why it’s being conducted and how they will benefit.

Step 5:  Select training resources, such as web-based or computer-based training, technical schools, manufacturers or training companies. Ensure the resource is able to provide training relevant to the needs of the organization and address the identified gaps. Training should be a combination of class room (theory) and hands-on demonstration.

Step 6: Develop and share “Individual Development Plans” to identify beneficial training or interventions to close skill gaps. Utilize those that are performing well on assessments to share their knowledge and skills as internal coaches.

Step 7:  Implement development plans to ensure training is scheduled during a time and at a location that promotes a positive learning experience. 

Step 8: Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  Use KPIs to measure the effectiveness of training interventions and the return on investment.

Step 9:  Design and implement a performance management system, meeting with employees quarterly to review their performance and gather feedback on how the process could be improved.

Step 10: Ensure development is continuous. Constantly evaluate your process, reviewing skill and knowledge requirements, revising training content and constantly reinforce skills application.

With proper management support and the process in place to maintain a company’s skilled assets, any organization can narrow their skills gap.  As they old saying goes, “how do you eat an elephant?” The answer: “one bite at a time!”  The same holds true with the question, “how do we close the skills gap?” The answer: “one person and one plant at a time!” 




08-16-2018 07:48 AM

Great article! One point that I would add is to visit the local technical colleges to look for your people with training in automation, robotics, mechatronics, electro-mechanical engineering or similar studies. these young people are looking for work, are interested in learning and are most likely very computer literate.
All lot, if not every piece of new equipment is computer controlled in some way and I have seen very experienced mechanics struggle to understand what is happening on a piece of operating equipment when it is acting up.
The younger technicians can be trained in the ways of the older, more experienced guys while adding value on systems that need a different outlook
You process would work wonders to bring the team together to share skills and to help the company understand what skills are necessary to provide reliable operation of their assets.

08-01-2018 05:53 PM

Great Sean.  But that will take time before we start to see the impact in organisations.  I think organisation/company leadership can help it now by encouraging technical education in schools.  Very good students from senior high who wish to pursue start their career straight away can be employed as trainees and given the opportunity to develop through hands on training, coaching and mentoring...

08-01-2018 11:29 AM

Great post John. 

Yesterday the US took a great step in closing the Skills Gap.  President Trump signed the Strengthening the Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.  This is re-authorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.  This bi-partisan re-authorization will provide $1.2 billion in funding for CTE, and is the first overhaul from Congress since 2006. 

It aligns with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and allows states to set goals for CTE programs  without the Education Secretary's approval, but requires them to make progress toward those goals.

Career and Technical Education is the backbone of a skilled workforce.  We have to train the next generation of technicians!