Workforce DevelopmentCombating the skilled worker shortage is a top priority for equipment manufacturers today. The long-term future of the industry depends on its ability to attract, develop, employ and retain the workforce of tomorrow.

Many manufacturers working to close the skills gap by establishing cutting-edge workforce development initiatives and activities, and their efforts are turning the difficult task of recruiting a skilled labor force into an organizational strength.

AEM published a number of articles in 2017 designed to inspire manufacturers to address the skilled worker shortage and promote the successful workforce development initiatives being implemented by member companies. Here are five key takeaways from AEM’s recent coverage on the topic:

1. The manufacturing industry must completely rethink its approach toward recruitment and retention.

Jeremy Bout, producer and host of Edge Factor, a show that employs media to tell stories of innovative manufacturing teams working together to design and build products that impact lives, urges manufacturers to ask themselves tough questions about their respective businesses and the industry as a whole, and how they are being perceived by the workforce of tomorrow.

More than anything else, Bout explains, manufacturers must put in the requisite time and effort to communicate to potential employees and help them picture where they would fit into the company long-term. Convincing young people to think of the manufacturing industry as a key step toward building a career, as opposed to merely a way to make a living, would go a long way toward addressing the skilled worker shortage.

2. The employer of today needs to “think like a farmer” to solve its workforce challenges.

According to Rusty McCarty, CEO of CustomEd, a nonprofit educational organization that provides customized educational programming for a wide variety of cause-based initiatives, it’s critical for companies to “plant the seeds” today that will bloom into tomorrow’s crop of laborers.

McCarty notes research that finds that, by the early age of 12, most people have established a mindset about the type of activities they do and do not enjoy. In his role as an education partnership developer, he’s found that if young children don’t learn to love working with their hands and building things, employers will struggle to attract them to manufacturing jobs later in life. That means there’s an enormous need for companies to develop programs that expose young people to activities and skillsets that could tie into future manufacturing careers.

3. Companies are leveraging workforce development initiatives that are nearly cradle-to-grave in their scope.

Consider the workforce development initiative being undertaken by Vermeer Corporation, an AEM member and a global leader in equipment manufacturing. Vermeer's investment in preparing people for a career in manufacturing goes far beyond the high school and college levels, starting well before elementary school and continuing past retirement, in some cases.

While it takes a great deal of time and energy to orchestrate Vermeer’s comprehensive approach to workforce development, the company understands attracting skilled labor is a challenge that's going to continue for years. As a result, Vermeer is willing to pour both effort and expense in a wealth of strategies, even ones that don’t guarantee immediate, measurable results.

4. It’s impossible to build a shop floor-ready workforce without investing in its development.

For seven years, aerial work platform manufacturer and AEM member Terex AWP’s Foundations training program has provided new employees with a level of education and training beyond the industry norm.

The company set about designing Foundations as a week-long training program that would equip new hires to contribute meaningfully from the moment they stepped foot on the factory floor. The company invested heavily, not only in developing the training regimen, but in creating a physical space optimized for bringing large numbers of people up to speed in a short time.

5. Finding, attracting and retaining qualified workers can be accomplished in 10 easy steps.

The skilled worker shortage is a problem of ever-growing significance, and the onus is on equipment manufacturers to find ways to connect with young people and convince them a career in the skilled trades is a great way to make a living.

According to CustomEd's McCarty, there are a number of ways equipment manufacturers can go about attracting qualified future employees:

  • Provide opportunities for growth.
  • Find ways to make direct contact.
  • Provide resources.
  • Time efforts carefully.
  • Have a plan to build stronger connections.
  • Be authentic and trustworthy.
  • Give tours (and don’t forget to provide a call to action.
  • Have all employees be recruiters.
  • Find out where your current team came from.
  • Use your sales team.

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