Manufacturing companies have long struggled to find, hire, and retain qualified talent. It hasn’t gotten easier with record low unemployment and a persistent skills gap for STEM jobs. A 2015 report by the Manufacturing Institute estimated that as many as two million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2025.

Training Challenges in Manufacturing

There are several reasons for this. A big part is the workforce itself – only 13% of US workers are employed in STEM jobs and most who are not cited cost and time as barriers to entry. But another major issue is retention and the training challenges faced by manufacturers who are not only shorthanded, but often working with outdated systems. Companies are dealing with:

  • Paper-based work instructions and checklists that take hours to prepare and update,
  • Paper-based on-the-job training matrices that slow down the process,
  • A steep learning curve made worse by time-deprived mentors and coaches,
  • Demanding end-customers and tight production deadlines.

The result is an industrial workforce frequently doing their jobs with little or no training and limited hands-on coaching.

Workforce issues unfortunately aren’t going away overnight. They will take years of policy and educational reform to address. But technology can be used to tackle many of these challenges head-on, creating, protecting and delivering value for organizations.

The Benefits of Improved Training Solutions

Through improvements to the tools and technologies used to facilitate training in a manufacturing plant, plant managers and HR supervisors can reap several benefits, including:

  • Improved Quality Performance – Improved training programs and cross-training can support lean initiatives and generally contribute to quality improvements. As an example, Butler Automatic saw improvements of more than 75% to on-time delivery and quality measurements through a series of training improvements.
  • Enhanced Safety StatisticsLiberty Mutual Insurance reported that 60% of CFOs cited a 100% ROI on injury prevention investments. And training is one of the most effective resources to enhance safety. Properly trained employees who attend regular meetings and engage with coaches and mentors on the job are less likely to get injured.
  • Increased Profits for the Company – Higher on-time performance, lower incidents of injury, and less hidden factory activities mean a more productive, profitable operation. Training makes this possible.

In addition to directly improving ROI, enhanced training can uncover the hidden factory within every industrial company. Undefined knowledge that has not been documented can create processes that are difficult to extricate from the plant. Workarounds and patches are consistently added by employees who don’t have easy access to the share knowledge of the rest of the plant or who are not properly trained.

Products that go through a hidden factory are more expensive to produce, creating a much longer feedback loop. And yet nearly 30% of activity in a factory is unplanned. Technology can ensure a single source of truth for floor operations, a centralized training program, and instant access to colleagues, supervisors, and subject matter experts when there is a problem, to avoid the workarounds that lead to unplanned activities.

Addressing Training Challenges with Technology

Today’s manufacturing plants rely on a decades-old managerial and training model that limits the potential performance of their employees. Technology empowers and augments employees to become better versions of themselves, but it requires a new approach to the front line.

Some companies are already doing this, with nearly a trillion dollars invested in digital transformation by the world’s largest companies. For organizations eager to reap the rewards of such a transition, there are four key areas in which training can be improved:

  1. Connecting Workers to One Another – Technology provides employees with easier ways to summon help, escalate their concerns or questions, and teach other on the job when new processes or problems arise.
  2. On Demand Digital Work Instructions – Technology enables HR and operations to replace paper work instructions and checklists with digital resources. These new systems can be deployed to any mobile device and updated quickly.
  3. Progressive Digital Checklists for Training – Digital checklists provide a flexible training resource, scaling to the knowledge and experience level of the employee so that productivity improves as they come on board.
  4. Training Management Platforms – Operations managers can quickly pull reports and analyze performance, software use, and concerns that employees have. This makes it easier to improve the process in the future and enhances traceability and downtime identification.

Technology should amplify efforts and improve results, not get in the way. Connected worker software and digital work instructions and checklists do this by putting knowledge in the hands of the front-line workers that creates value for your organization. Done right and this can fundamentally transform your business for the better.

Learn more about how the broken managerial model is holding companies back from true digital transformation, and the six experiments you can implement to initiate change. Download our free eBook, Are You Still Guiding Your Front Line with a Broken Managerial Model?