Talent transformation: Tips to overcome the manufacturing skills gap from Sharon Brand, CCi Senior Product Specialist

Workplace trends such as digital transformation and the application of advanced technologies require connected workers who can leverage digital tools. In this blog, we interview CCi Senior Product Specialist Sharon Brand where she discusses the urgent need to close the manufacturing skills gap through talent transformation.

  1. Urgent need for talent transformation in manufacturing

The shortage of skilled employees, particularly those with digital skills and manufacturing skills, predates the COVID-19 pandemic. As global economies begin to recover from the past two years, the need for relevant talent transformation to steady supply chains is going to become even more urgent. According to Gartner, 74% of manufacturers want to build smart manufacturing organizations to increase their competitiveness. Such an evolution requires capability building in the form of people: human skills are key to developing digital skills.

Sharon Brand is a Senior Product Specialist at CCi, with deep expertise in supply chain management best practices. She has held various leadership positions across operations and supply chain in organizations such as Pfizer, Warner Lambert, Orley Foods, Linde (Afrox) and the Department of Health. In her 11 years at CCi, Sharon has led the development of the Supply Chain TRACCs, leveraged by leading global clients to optimize end-to-end performance. Her in-depth knowledge of all areas related to supply chain management makes her uniquely attuned to the industry’s pressing shortage of digital manufacturing skills.

In a recent interview, Sharon shared the following industry insights on talent transformation.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has, as we all know, caused unprecedented supply chain disruptions and market volatility. As a result, the workplace trends taking place prepandemic – such as digital transformation and the application of advanced technologies – exploded. Now, as we begin to review the full impact of the pandemic, we are faced with manufacturing companies lagging behind other industries when scaling and refining their digitalization strategies. This is largely due to the increasing lack of digitally skilled workers to meet the requirements of digitally enabled manufacturing environments. To benefit from the acceleration of digitalization and investments in advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, 5G and robotics, smart factories need connected workers who can leverage digital tools.

 

  1. What are some of the most in-demand skills in manufacturing right now?

Manufacturing organizations need to focus their talent transformation efforts on digital skills development. Hard skills that demonstrate technical proficiency, such as data literacy and basic IT, are crucial as AI, algorithms and automation redesign supply chain management. This is not to say that soft skills, like communication and collaboration, are less important. As digitalization dismantles functional silos to integrate people, processes and practices, soft skills – particularly in leadership – remain vital. That said, digitally skilled and connected factory workers must be able to leverage digital tools to augment their cyber-physical interactions for greater integration.

Here is a list of the top priority skills required to close the manufacturing skills gap:

  • Low-code skills (programing skills for automation)
  • Leveraging digital tools and data management techniques
  • Applying virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)
  • Data science: natural language processing, statistical inference, knowledge representation and learning algorithms (advanced analytics)
  • Operational intelligence and critical thinking i.e., the ability to analyze and interpret data
  • Digital inquisitiveness
  • Data literacy
  • Infrastructure and software management

What’s more, there needs to be increased emphasis placed on technical skills at all levels in the supply chain. In fact, as supply chain operations become more automated, senior management will have to become more savvy about automation.

 

  1. What are some of the indicators that an organization needs to prioritize skills training?

A drop in performance is an immediate alert that existing skills no longer match the organization’s requirements. When a manufacturing business identifies the need to improve any or all of the following: productivity, resilience, agility, sustainability, asset performance, costs and customer experience, then there needs to be a step change in problem-solving capabilities and overall skills development.

 

  1. How should organizations go about determining which skills are lacking based on new technologies being implemented?

First and foremost, there needs to be consensus that digital skills are now critical to ensure successful supply chain management. Once that is agreed, an organization can define the roles and resources it needs based on its digital strategy objectives.

The next step is to undertake a skills evaluation to assess the organization’s current resources’ levels of technical proficiency. By developing a skills matrix, the manufacturer can measure its existing resources against its near-term and long-term digital projects. This framework will highlight the gaps that need to be filled through a reskilling program and/or a new recruitment strategy.

TRACC can guide manufacturers through this process by helping the organization identify the skills their workers need to adapt to the new technologies and processes that they are implementing.

 

  1. Once digital skills gaps have been identified, what steps should companies take to close these gaps?

Companies need to determine how best to fill the roles required to meet their supply chain needs. Typically, a combination of a formal, internal reskilling program and a new recruitment strategy works best. A training program to help existing employees advance their digital skills is always necessary. However, outsourcing or hiring new resources is not always needed, as new roles can often be filled by upskilling existing workers.

Most organizations need assistance when identifying their training requirements and developing a comprehensive training program. TRACC helps organizations develop a formalized reskilling program that is specifically designed to fill their identified digital skills gaps.

 

  1. After training has commenced, are there any other steps companies should take to support their employees in adapting to new digital roles?

Companies need to update their job descriptions, organizational charts and career trajectories. Crucially, new knowledge must be entrenched in day-to-day processes and practices through regular assessment and structured coaching sessions. To that end, the following steps are encouraged:

  • Prepare SMART KPIs for each team member
  • Ensure that formal performance reviews are conducted
  • Manage poor performers in line with HR policies and statutory requirements
  • Apply varied and tiered employee-recognition techniques

 

  1. What are the benefits of a skills development approach versus recruiting new talent?

An internal skills development program is great for maintaining morale. It includes employees in the company’s digital transformation process which does wonders for motivation and performance – and helps smooth the transition. It is also a quicker, safer and less expensive approach to filling the digital skills gap. Interestingly, Gartner states that 84% of manufacturers are upgrading their learning and development programs. Bear in mind though, it often requires a high level of change management oversight.

External recruitment draws on a wider pool of talent which enables greater access to more skills. It also provides the opportunity to review existing roles and responsibilities against current industry standards. However, the external recruitment process can be a lengthy, expensive and risky process; when recruiting new skills for an updated or new role, some companies are in unfamiliar terrain and can find themselves stuck with inappropriate new hires.

 

  1. What advice would you give supply chain organizations looking to develop their digital skills and capability?

The first step for companies wanting to develop their digital skills and capability is to assess their organizational design and existing employee skill sets against the identified digital skill requirements. By identifying the gaps between the company’s existing baseline state and future digital state, management can identify training needs and draft an appropriate plan to facilitate a smooth transition.

Some manufacturing organizations are still steeped in traditional, siloed organizational design and skill development, while others are further along their digital transformation journeys. Therefore, a maturity-based approach is critical to determine the best way forward for each individual organization.

Ultimately, talent – across the company – must be empowered to perform with digital confidence. To achieve this end-goal, organizations should consider formal upskilling programs and ongoing training initiatives that are aligned with the company’s digital transformation strategy.

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