The skills gap bedeviling U.S. manufacturers has given rise to hundreds of programs to train workers. And most of these efforts, though varied in other ways, share one important trait: the schooling that occurs happens offsite, not at the factories for which workers are being trained. It could be at a community college, regional or local “workforce development” agency, or other independent organization.
The aim is to develop and sharpen skills of a potential assembly worker, or higher skilled manufacturing player, and then plug them in to an ongoing company operation with as little ramp-up time as possible.
Many employers prefer this model. Given the narrowing of the mission at many companies – to a core competency of a relative handful of tasks, letting others handle less-central requirements of the workplace – it makes sense to them. The very nature of training and integration of new workers – some drop out, some don’t make the cut, even the best can slow down the operation with questions and adjustments – seems antithetical to some operations designed to run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, at flat-out 100% of capacity, with minimal layers of management.
But is there another way? The projected shortfall in manufacturing workers – the U.S. is expected to come up a full 2 million employees short of its required 3.4 million new workers in the sector in the decade ending 2025, according to a study by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte – is so significant that no approach should be ignored. And today, I want to recommend to every manufacturing CEO the very different experience of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, a maker of sophisticated equipment for the global power industry based in Pullman, Wash.
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