By Julie Ogilvie
This week the Wall Street Journal has a front-page story about the difficulty some companies are having filling key positions, in spite of high unemployment (Some Firms Struggle to Hire Despite High Unemployment). This was a surprising fact from the article: “Since the economy bottomed out in mid-2009, the number of job openings has risen more than twice as fast as actual hires.”
The article focuses primarily on the plight of manufacturing firms that are struggling to find workers with the right mix of skills necessary to operate machines in the new high-tech manufacturing world. But a similar situation exists in areas such as business services, education and health care.
Numerous reasons are offered for the shortage of workers with “the right stuff,” from the availability of extended unemployment benefits to the shortcomings of our educational system. But an even bigger factor may be the dramatic changes that have occurred in the manufacturing realm over the last couple of decades. Today’s production floors are filled with complex, computerized equipment and production processes are governed by principles like Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing. It’s just not a place where workers with poor computer or math skills can be successful.
It’s unlikely that our educational system is going to be able to respond to these market needs, so the job of developing these specialized skills is going to have to fall on the employers. Since employers are the ones who stand to benefit from having skilled employees, this makes sense. But with today’s economic pressures, the idea of adding “expensive” new training programs may not seem practical for many companies. What’s a manufacturer to do?
For one thing, they need to modernize the approach to training. Companies have upgraded their manufacturing floors, but often still rely on a 100% classroom approach to training their workers. E-learning courseware on Six Sigma and lean manufacturing can be blended with specialized classroom or hands-on training that pertains to the specific equipment in use. Environmental Safety and Health (ES&H) topics can also be effectively covered through online courses, and compliance record-keeping is simplified with a Learning Management System (LMS).
Manufacturing companies have so much to gain from e-learning, so it’s hard to understand why some have been slow to adopt this approach. SkillSoft customers such as Gilbane, Unisys, Koch and TRC are seeing the benefits of e-learning for their workforces. And that’s something that other manufacturers, large and small, could learn from.