The Skills Gap?

Do we really have a skills gap?

At a recent industry meeting in Calgary where several manufacturing leaders were gathered in one room the issue of finding skilled labor was a repeated theme.

Businesses facing shortages of experienced and qualified people to fill positions in manufacturing.

I wanted to dig into this a bit more and share some of my experience and thoughts on this.

Manufacturing is changing. Exponentially.

This rapid change and digitization is very hard to grasp - I recommend a few hours researching exponential change and checking out Sigularity Universities videos on exponential manufacturing to really understand the scale and pace of these changes.

Long story short - the technology is changing faster than most companies can afford to adopt it. (and if your not adopting it you have one foot in the ground already) As the leader of a company you really can’t afford not to digitize your manufacturing business.

Education of the workforce is a major problem with the software, equipment and processes getting ever more complicated. That being said you require students in order to educate them.

For years the trades have not been marketed well, parents and education institutions push programs that are viewed as more prestigious and popular.

Liability and cost have abolished almost all high school level shop classrooms where many trades people I know, myself included discovered the use of our hands and an alternative to a bachelors degree along with a passion for creating.

Do we really have a skills gap? Or is it more of a marketing problem?

A lack of exposure to the trades coupled with a negative social stigma might be more the cause of the skills gap than we really care to admit.

It’s not going to get better easily. Unfortunately, not any time soon either. Labor will get more expensive, harder to find with the skills manufacturing needs and robots will continue to take over.

My prediction in the CNC world is the complete extinction of the CNC operator, replaced by pallet systems and programmers - the future is unattended production backed up by extensive software simulation to allow production of parts the first time, without human interference or participation.

Some companies are starting to achieve this in a high mix/ low volume environment already - better figure out how to get your own bullet train ( or maybe hyperloop) on the track to compete! Change is happening fast, and it doesn’t care if you are ready for it.

The skills gap is an excuse to stop adapting and the need to adapt has never been greater or more urgent in manufacturing.



People who do trades VS Tradespeople

My journey in manufacturing started when I was five years old. My grandparents gifted me a full size claw hammer for my birthday. Even as a small child the empowerment that came from being trusted with, and wielding such a simple tool was fascinating for me. It's quite interesting that hammers, as simple as they are, still build many of our homes. Tools give us the means to create and better our lives.

Creativity in manufacturing is just as valuable as facts. The difference however is that one of the two can be found in a reference book or these days, on the internet. Creativity is what leads to Innovation, efficiency and value in any product. 

The real question is! How do you learn to be creative? 

I think creativity is something that can be taught, nurtured, encouraged and practiced, as most skills are. 

A workplace that embraces creativity, and capitalizes on an individual's idea to improve manufacturing processes, will grow well rounded staff with ninja like problem solving skills in the long term.

There has to be production and organization; however, with a solid plan, new ways of doing things should always be welcome. Otherwise the process, machinery and people your using now, won't be competitive in the marketplace of tomorrow, let alone next year. 

Creativity, however, requires something that is hard to find; Passion. When someone looks at a manufactured part, how passionate the person or people involved in its production is probably not your first thought. However it's actually quite easy to tell how much thought, effort and innovation was put into a product.

The man who took me under his wing over a decade ago in the machining trade had a saying that has and will always stick with me: "There are people who do trades, and there are trades people" The difference being that people who do trades, do not take pride in the fine details and skill of their craft. True trades people, live by a standard of quality that follows them from project to project, no matter the discipline. A carpenter passionate about quality and detail, if thrown into a mechanics project, will take the time to fully understand his task, learn the subject and complete it with perfection.