Training will get the most of your talent

Manufacturing is a stable career with great growth potential, and its future growth lies in our ability to attract and retain the best people we can
By Bob Vavra, Content Manager, CFE Media September 18, 2013

There is, at last, a groundswell of support for the idea of manufacturing as a career choice. Plant Engineering has spent the last eight years writing on this topic, on both sides of the recession, and it is encouraging to see the level of interest on the topic, both at the company level and at the association level.

The industry leaders on this topic who are interviewed in this September issue, and the 2013 class of our Leaders Under 40 program, all point to the same basic truth: manufacturing is a stable career with great growth potential, and its future growth lies in our ability to attract and retain the best people we can.

In this way, it is similar to the other big event in September—the start of the college football season. The success of college sports in general, and football in particular, depends on finding, coaching, and developing both individual talent and a sense of teamwork. A successful football team is not a collection of individually talented players, but the combination of talents balanced and blended to produce the best outcome. Talent helps but coaching matters, and each year there is a school which overcomes its lack of perceived talent to become what the football writers like to call “overachievers.”

As a former football writer, I used the term from time to time. I’ve come to realize over the last number of years that the term actually is demeaning to both the players and coaches. Talent often is wasted by players who are not willing to improve, and coaches often don’t understand how to get the best from talent. At the same time, those players who work to improve and coaches who put their players in the best position to win aren’t over-achieving. That is the epitome of achievement.

The epitome of manufacturing is creating finished goods from raw materials. We do it in our manufacturing process, and we need to be prepared to do it with our manufacturing professionals. Education can take the next generation of workers only so far. We must be prepared to take those young people who have come to us eager to learn and finish the job started by our educational partners.

This partnership has emerged in recent years as educators, manufacturers, and civic leaders all have realized that a strong, well-trained manufacturing workforce can attract good-paying jobs and economic development. Manufacturers can grow their business and streamline their costs by developing their workforce, and conversely can lose the chance to grow without that strong workforce.

Training is the essential element. Training takes an established skill set and molds it into what the organization needs in order to succeed. The more skills everyone on the team has, the more versatile the workforce can be to meet the challenges of any given day. This idea of a flexible workforce—cross-trained, nimble, and adaptable to changes in customer needs—can deliver greater productivity and can avoid getting workers bogged down in tedious or repetitive work.

Some plants I’ve visited this year actually reward workers financially for demonstrating skills in multiple areas of the plant. If you assemble one machine, you have a defined value. If you can assemble multiple machines, your value is greater because illness, injury, or workflow won’t disrupt operations. That extra money in salary can be a small incentive to make sure the larger work of the plant continues uninterrupted.

Those players who work to improve and coaches who put their players in the best position to win aren’t over-achieving. That is the epitome of achievement.

As we develop this next generation of workers, we should understand they are fundamentally different people than the generation that preceded them. They grew up with gadgets in their hands, and they understand what the marriage of technology and information can deliver. They need to learn how to bring that talent and knowledge to bear in an operational setting, and to use those talents to deliver on the promise that today’s technology offers.

They need guidance and training. They need the experience that we have to offer. We all have much to learn from each other, of course, but the one indispensible value manufacturing leaders have to offer the next generation is experience.

You can’t put that in a PC or an app. It comes from a different place. Our ability to convey that knowledge will determine how rapidly this next generation will carry on the tradition we have built for them.