Don't Just Talk About a Skills Gap - Do Something!

Countless news reports point to the skills gaps among U.S. manufacturers, particularly among small- and mid-sized companies. Executives quoted in these articles typically cite a familiar litany of complaints about potential employees: poor math skills, inability to pass drug tests, lack of work ethic, don’t like manufacturing, blah, blah, blah.

But the topic that should really concern these leaders is how terrible most companies are at leveraging the latent talent they already have — and augmenting it selectively with new employees. The sad truth is that most manufacturers, for all their worry about talent, don’t have the simple strategies, plans, and best practices in place to address those concerns.

The numbers are clear: Almost half of U.S. employers report that talent shortages have a medium to high impact on their business. Yet a full 20% of these companies have no strategy to overcome talent shortages. The MPI Group found that 11% of manufacturers have no human-capital management strategy, while another 27% have only a generic strategy with little or no functional involvement (i.e., operations and production staff are disconnected from HR practices).

How can a manager break his reliance on the “skills gaps” excuse? By deploying the 3Es (Educate, Engage, and Empower) in a long-term strategy:

Educate new hires: Manufacturers can’t expect new hires to excel without both training and broader perspective of organizational objectives. Leading companies (e.g., Toyota) deliberately place new hires in positions outside their comfort zones and areas of education, supporting them with training on the job as they learn more about the company and its processes. The goal is to make sure that everyone keeps growing — and avoids complacency.

Engage employees: Employees are just like their bosses: they need motivation and incentive to perform at peak levels and assume new roles. Research done by Dr. Thijs van Rens, Department of Economics, University Warwick, found that low wages are primarily to blame for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills gaps, rather than ineffective education systems. “Businesses complain about the lack of workers with STEM skills, but are unwilling to raise wages for these workers — or reduce wages for workers with skills that are less in demand.” Which wages at your company are non-competitive? Which are too high?

Empower employees: Employees at every level of the company must have the skills, training, and authority to make informed decisions that delight customers and create margin. Empowerment is the toughest challenge for manufacturers, because it requires mutual trust and respect between employees and management — a major cultural shift at many firms. A study by the MPI Group found that about half of all manufacturers empower less than half of their workforce; 20% empower nobody.

You can complain about the skills gap, or you can leverage the 3Es and fix it.

What’s it going to be?

MAGNET is a part of Ohio MEP, part of the NIST-MEP program

Posted by Liz Fox in MPI, Workforce

Most Recent


February 22, 2018 by Sam Wasylyshyn

HEADLINE The survey definitively shows that product innovation leads to more growth, while “grow your own workforce” strategies will be needed to fill the major labor shortages hampering small manufacturer growth. Emerging technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, and digital manufacturing are beginning to enhance innovation and productivity, but still have significant room for adoption amongst Ohio’s small manufacturing businesses. ABOUT THE SURVEY Under the direction of the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Ohio MEP), MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network conducted a thorough survey of Ohio’s manufacturing base. Contributing approximately 20% of Ohio’s jobs (and driving in some regions up to 50% of Ohio’s economy), and generating a disproportionate amount of export revenues and Gross Regional Product, manufacturing is critical to Ohio. Greater than 95% of Ohio’s manufacturers are small (under 500 employees), and these manufacturers need to remain competitive both nationally and internationally to ensure our economy’s health. Ohio’s Development Services Agency and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which runs the MEP, recognizes the importance of this sector and fuels MAGNET and the Ohio MEP program to directly serve and support innovation, efficiency, and growth in small and medium manufacturers. What manufacturers need

Manufacturing is Facing a New Reality

February 06, 2018 by Sam Wasylyshyn

How Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Can Help Keep Our Engineers Safe and Our Manufacturing Strong Recall how difficult it was to put together complex LEGO creations when you were a child or helping a child. Now, picture assembling a fighter plane from a room full of parts. Even highly trained engineers can benefit from technology to help improve consistency and quality. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are making near-perfect assembly a possibility in the manufacturing space. By wearing AR glasses that use cameras, depth sensors and motion sensors to overlay images onto the real working environment, engineers and factory workers can visualize the exact bolts, parts, part numbers and instructions on how to assemble a particular component correctly. Lockheed Martin began using AR goggles and improved F-35 assembly time by 30 percent, in addition to increasing accuracy to 96 percent[1]. In order to remain competitive, businesses should consider the ways VR and AR can improve efficiency and supply chain productivity. According to a recent BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research report[2], AR platforms can provide companies up to 25 percent in cost savings on installation of equipment. Here are four ways VR/AR is disrupting the mid-market manufacturing space:

Is Technology Your Thing? Connect with TechLink

February 06, 2018 by Sam Wasylyshyn

Why should you consider TechLink? To date: More than 1,270 technology transfer partnerships brokered between companies and 110 DoD labs or centers, including all 65 DoD labs that generate patented inventions More than 600 license agreements facilitated between DoD and companies nationwide, transferring over 1,000 DoD inventions to industry Facilitated 60% of total DoD licensing agreements over the past 10 years What does TechLink Specialize in? TechLink specializes in 10 technology areas: Energy, BioTech, Materials, Sensors, Photonics, Software/Info Technology, Military Technology, Electronics and Environmental Technologies. 4 Ways TechLink can help you: Actively market DoD inventions to industry nationwide Help companies evaluate these inventions and submit license applications Facilitate communications between DoD labs and companies leading to “win-win” license agreements for both parties Maintain the nation’s only comprehensive database of DoD-patented inventions, fully searchable through Why should you believe in TechLink? Check out the TechLink technology database and the Technology Spotlight for regular updates on available technologies and contact information for the related Technology Manager. The Manager will help you assess the technology for your company needs, facilitate your connection with DoD, and walk you through the licensing process. Most DoD inventions have civilian and commercial applications. DoD technologies licensed by TechLink have generated