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Familiar Workforce Challenges for Small and Medium-Sized Manufacturers and Possible Solutions

Monday, January 30, 2023 | Workforce Development

There aren’t enough workers to meet U.S. manufacturers’ needs. A 2021 survey by the National Association of Manufacturers found that 80% of companies say their top challenge is the inability to attract and retain a quality workforce. The situation will worsen as baby boomers continue to retire. Adding to the challenge, the “great resignation” has resulted in people looking for more flexible and rewarding work. According to Deloitte, there could be 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2030.

The following infographic showcases the familiar workforce challenges for small and medium-sized manufacturers and possible solutions.

Responding to the Skills Gap

Training is the Solution

Why invest in current employees instead of looking to hire new people? It’s a sound business decision that costs less and results in higher productivity because new employees take an average of five to nine months to reach total productivity. For many manufacturers, retraining and upskilling existing employees can create an attractive work environment and increase retention.

More and more, manufacturers are investing in training. A recent Manufacturing Institute study found that 75% of respondents said upskilling workers helped to improve productivity, promotion opportunities, and morale.

Creating Effective Training Programs

What types of training will engage your employees, meeting your needs for enhanced skills and their needs so that they stay with your businesses?  Here are some effective training strategies that have worked for small and medium-sized manufacturers:

Transfer knowledge – mentorships and apprenticeships. More than 90% of employees who have gone through apprenticeship programs stay on the job where they received the training. Mentoring relationships are valuable on both personal and professional levels because they create a sense of connection that is important to job satisfaction – leading to higher retention.

Leverage technology – augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR). Using AR and VR for training has many benefits, including being a safe learning environment and the ability to implement it remotely. It’s more cost-effective than real-life simulations, and retention rates are much higher for VR than traditional training. What’s more, the gamification aspects of training appeal to Gen Zers and millennials!

Apply lean manufacturing principles. Applying the principles of lean manufacturing to training can lead to better results. Design training with a specific intent for what workers need to excel – this increases the value and reduces waste. Flexible, active training sessions and lots of Q&A align with lean principles. Mapping the value stream of your training program, creating flow, and aiming for continuous improvement are additional ways to apply lean principles to training programs for great results effectively.

Impact Washington Can Support Your Workforce Needs

Impact Washington is helping small and medium-sized manufacturers develop the workforce solutions they need. We are partnering with local education partners on the Job Skills Program (JSP), which enables us to support cost-effective training. JSP funds half of the training cost; partner employers provide a cash or in-kind match to fund the other half. The program supports a variety of training suited to each manufacturer's unique needs.

Learn how Impact Washington's targeted, customized, and proven workforce development programs can help your company maximize employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity. Contact us here


The above content appeared on the NIST Manufacturing Blog on January 12, 2023, and was authored by: Katie Rapp.  It has been edited for Impact Washington and the programs for Washington State. You can view the full blog post here


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