Skills shortages demand a ‘build your own’ training approach

Industrial companies around the world have faced a shortage of digital skills for years.

But, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated digitalization, heightened strains on supply chains while forcing some out of the labor market – a combination of factors that has turned a chronic problem into an almost crippling crisis.

In May 2020, in the early months of the pandemic, when McKinsey interrogates 60 global supply chain executives, only 10% of respondents said they had sufficient digital skills internally. A year later, that number had dropped to 1%.

Daniel Swan, a manufacturing and supply chain expert at McKinsey, says there was “clear recognition” among executives that closing the digital skills gap was a priority even before the pandemic. Now, however, “it’s gone from number ten on the agenda to number three.”

The skills required vary from position to position. For example, where a maintenance mechanic would previously have repaired physical machinery, this role might now require someone to diagnose and fix a problem in an automated system via a computer.

The challenge now is to close this gap. “Everyone is looking for the same talent right now, so you can’t just hire these people [externally]”Swan says. “There’s no doubt about it – you have to hire some of them – but people are going to have to train their existing workforce.

According to Mary Ann Pacelli – a workforce issues expert with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a US government-backed agency that supports manufacturing companies – the biggest reskilling challenge for employers is access to resources and funding. “If you’re in the middle of a cornfield in the Midwest, you may not be near a college or a company that can come and train your workforce. And that comes at a cost,” Pacelli says.

However, the Covid-19 crisis appears to have boosted employers’ confidence in the value of virtual training, which may remove some of these barriers to access. “The pandemic has forced more people to do this and now we have companies requesting online training,” she explains.

In the UK, the Materials Processing Institute (MPI) research center is taking virtual training one step further. It’s piloting the use of augmented reality as a way to train staff while they work – and as a training tool that captures workers’ perspectives when demonstrating tasks in situ. These videos can then be viewed by other trainees when they put on their headphones.

“It is used as a training tool to get people up to speed in a safe and timely manner through simulations in an immersive environment,” says MPI CEO Chris McDonald. “Another way is to provide additional information to engineers on site so that if they approach a process element where there is a problem, they can obtain additional information. Or back-to-base experts can be there with them, thanks to augmented reality, and it’s kind of a refresher piece.

Pacelli says on-the-job training — whether delivered through digital technology like this or through standard face-to-face instruction — is a critical step in the journey to building skills, but that employers sometimes overlook.

Although training at a school, college, or program can provide employees with practical experience as well as theoretical knowledge, to be truly beneficial, the application of this general knowledge must be taught in specific workplace situations. employees when they come back, she says. “Companies need to better understand their expectations of colleges and know what to do when that person returns. . . This is where a lot of workouts break down.

However, if companies are successful in retraining their workforce, they will not only avoid immediate staffing issues, but will contribute to the sustainability of their businesses. Given how quickly new technologies and digital developments are happening, “it’s lifelong learning,” McDonald notes. “You can imagine that someone might need to make these kinds of transitions several times during their career. . . We have a skills environment that is really school-based, but the balance is going to change, we need to do more on-the-job training.

According to McDonald: “This revolution is going to happen regardless, but Britain will be more successful and people’s lives will be better if we manage a just transition for workers.

He has personal experience of industrial transition going “wrong” in his former mining community of Durham. “Hard-earned skills become obsolete overnight. . . The first industrial revolution raised the standard of living at the end but it fell during, and we can see that there is a risk that the same thing will happen again”, he argues.

“If we didn’t step in and you ‘fast-forward’ two generations, maybe people will get there eventually. But they should go through a lot of turmoil in between. So why would we make this choice when we could help people through this ordeal? »

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