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Filling the Manufacturing Skills Gap Through Local Partnerships

The manufacturing industry is still facing a labor shortage, especially in skilled labor. Companies are attempting to use several tactics to fix this, including investing in advanced technologies and employee training. However, there are untapped resources many companies aren’t taking advantage of that can help them attract highly skilled workers.

Manufacturers often don’t think about forming external partnerships within their community to upskill their workforce. But there are plenty of organizations, from educational institutions to local workforce boards, that manufacturers can leverage. Building these relationships will help manufacturers find skilled labor from areas they never thought to look before.

The Local Ecosystem 

The term “local ecosystem” comes from a recent interview with Rebecca Battle-Bryant of Battle Plan Consulting, a manufacturing consulting firm that specializes in workforce development issues. She believes manufacturers can tap into their local ecosystem to help solve their workforce problems.

“You need to be tapped into your local education partners and let them know what is available. Donate equipment if it makes sense to do so,” Battle-Bryant says. She always asks the companies she works with: “Are you talking to your community and technical colleges? Are you talking to your four years that have programs that can feed your company?”

These types of partnerships require a long-term commitment from both sides, but Battle-Bryant describes it as one of the best ways manufacturers can promote their company to students in their community. It’s not just manufacturers who benefit from this outreach; sometimes school districts don’t realize all the options available to their students within the manufacturing sector. Helping to bridge this gap allows schools to offer more diverse programs to students that can teach them in-demand skills.

Education won’t magically change to fill the skills gap, though. Manufacturers need to leverage their network to find someone that can help connect them to the local school district. Then they need to work to supplement the education at those schools, either through offering student apprenticeships or other training opportunities that can help them hone trade skills.

Partnerships with community colleges and technical schools are also great options for manufacturers. And there are some creative ways to leverage these relationships. Tuition reimbursement is a great benefit, but many workers are usually only interested in engaging in on-the-job training. For these scenarios, manufacturers can see if a local college is willing to send an instructor to the plant, or even have a supervisor look into becoming an adjunct facility member. Then they would be able to teach the required curriculum while having knowledge of the facility’s processes and programs.

Another part of the local ecosystem to reach out to is local workforce boards. These boards receive federal grants to train specific groups of people in different professions. And if they know manufacturers in the region who are also interested in helping these populations, they can provide workers willing to go through training.

“Workforce boards need to know you’re interested, and you’ve got training programs. It’s another funnel of potential funding for training, helps build good relations in your community, and gets locals talking about your company,” Battle-Bryant explains.

Career centers are also an underutilized resource. Local career or training centers can be a great way to find skilled workers looking for jobs. Even if these places don’t have an exact match, there will still be job seekers with transferable skills.

“Don’t discount somebody’s certificate or credential because it's not your industry,” Battle-Bryant argues. “If someone has graduated with any type of industrial degree or has a certificate related to the trades, then they’ve shown that they have the potential and motivation to learn and they are trainable.”

Expanding Skillsets 

Manufacturers looking to make these partnerships also need to have a good idea of the kind of skillset they are looking for. One way to do this is to have an updated occupation task list, which outlines what workers need to get a specific job done.

“Look at it from entry level, intermediate, and advanced, about how long is it going to take someone to be advanced? What are the minimum qualifications? What are the nice to haves? And then how does that change at each level so that a person can walk in knowing that they're capable,” explains Battle-Bryant.

Reconsidering some qualifications and certification requirements can help manufacturers expand their talent pool. When manufacturers are willing to be flexible, such as by allowing new employees a specified timeframe to get a certification or offering training, then they’re more likely to attract good workers who can easily meet the companies’ needs given some time.

Battle-Bryant recommends manufacturers outline all of this in a job posting and in the occupation task list. This gives new hires a roadmap of how they can succeed in the job and lets them know that training opportunities, such as apprenticeships or tuition reimbursement, are available to help them get there.

“The beauty of apprenticeship is that it's going to give you a competency checklist and roadmap. If it's tied into that same occupation task list, it's going to make so much more sense to a new worker,” says Battle-Bryant. “They know where they're going, they know how to get there, and they see that it's attainable.”

Building the Right Partnerships 

The skills gap is a significant issue facing the manufacturing industry, and it’s not always about finding more people, but finding the right people. Forming partnerships with local school districts, community colleges, and technical schools are excellent ways to upskill the younger generation of workers. Additionally, collaborating with regional workforce boards and career centers can help connect manufacturing companies with motivated workers who have an adjacent skillset.

Discounting these opportunities with the local ecosystem is a disservice to the community. Bridging the gap between education and the business world is beneficial to both sides and increases the opportunities available to young students and workers. People continue learning throughout their entire lives, and companies should take an active role in facilitating this to maintain a skilled and engaged workforce.

As Battle-Bryant says: “People are your most valuable resource, and they have the greatest impact on your productivity and profitability. The key to workforce development issues is investing in your people.”

If you’re a manufacturing company struggling with workforce development, look into Battle Plan Consulting. And if you want to explore workforce transformation and hear from more experts knowledgeable in this area, attend the Smart Manufacturing Experience.


Dr. Rebecca Battle-Bryant, President & Owner of Battle Plan Consulting

Dr. Battle-Bryant is a proactive, results-oriented leader with a unique professional background, encompassing private industry, government, higher education, and policy development, with over 25 years of management experience. She has the keen ability to translate a business vision and mission into key performance indicators to improve employee engagement, growth, and profitability. Her passion is workforce and developing collaborative business alliances, utilizing deep community roots and networking strengths, with private industry, trade associations, education, non-profits, and government organizations to build a thriving workforce.

Additionally, Dr. Battle-Bryant is a certified facilitator and coach. She is certified in problem solving, process management, and self-directed work team theory and tools programming. Additionally, she is certified to deliver AchieveGlobal and Development Dimensions International (DDI) programs, in Leadership, Team Building, and Customer Service. She is a graduate of Auburn University where she received her undergraduate degree in Business Administration, majoring in Marketing and Sales, and a Master of Business Administration. She received a doctorate degree at the University of South Carolina in Higher Education Administration in 2009.