Last week, this industry analyst attended and spoke at mid-market focused ERP provider’s QAD Explore 2016 conference. In a prior Part One Supply Chain Matters commentary, I shared overall impressions regarding QAD’s current applications software and technology activities along, and in a Part Two posting I shared additional impressions related to interactions.

During Explore 2016, I have the opportunity to contribute to a panel discussion. The Manufacturing Skills Gap in the Gig Economy.  In addition to this author, the panel further consisted of:

Nick Castellina, Research Director, Aberdeen

Kaye Swanson, Chief People Officer, QAD

Sharon Ward, Senior Director Marketing, QAD

Our panel began with Nick Castellina sharing recent Aberdeen research pointing to an aging workforce in manufacturing. According to recent survey data, 67 percent of the manufacturing work force is between the ages of 31 to 50 years old. An additional 11 percent is between the ages of 51 to 60 years old. Nick summarized the findings by indicating that manufacturing expertise is at a premium and top performers continuously recruit and utilize best-in-class technology to help train and retain needed talent. What struck this author was survey data indicating that 69 percent of respondents felt that new graduates lacked practical skills, i.e. their skills were considered too academic. As a contrast, 34 percent of respondents indicated that their employers were not willing to invest in additional training of new employees. Somewhat of a dichotomy.

I was addressed to highlight some root causes. I pointed to far faster clock speed of business today coupled with an era of industry digital transformation and disruption. While senior management awareness to availability and retention of needed skills is a universal concern, approaches tend to vary. Meanwhile, today industry supply chains have moved into an era of high complexity, increased risk, and the need for faster, more-informed and timely decision making capabilities. This is where advanced technology is increasingly playing a role, but new advances in technology are outdistancing current organizational skill levels.

Kaye Swanson of QAD addressed the steps that should be included in strategic workforce planning and described example of how QAD is addressing its skill requirement needs. What was interesting as well as informative was Kaye’s description of global based workforce recruiting that factors different business cultural and geographic considerations. Kaye later addressed the notions of today’s Gig Economy, where many people now exist as independent contractors and specialists in given business processes or technologies.

I was asked if there is really a skills gap or is it actually a training gap? My response is that it is both, in terms of sheer numbers of Baby Boomers retiring over the next decade as well as the need for existing people to be able to constantly upgrade their skills in the use of newer technology enabled processes. There remains a perception problem for careers in manufacturing and supply chain processes which comes from a full understanding of roles and contributions, as well as how supply chain teams are making a difference in enabling required business outcomes.  In terms of other factors, we all have to keep in-mind that many jobs being created did not exist 1-2 years ago. The majority did not exist 5-10 years ago. Thus, when creating a job requisition, rather than past years of experience and deep functional knowledge, it may be far better to express needs in relation to required hard and soft skill sets, both currently and in future growth dimensions. Many leading-edge employers are finding better results with skills-based requirement with an understanding that certain people can be recruited on the basis of adaptability to changing business and process needs.

In an earlier Explore keynote titled The Future of Manufacturing, Lean thought leader and author Jim Womack addressed the future as the ability to manage and leverage information flowing across the product value-chain and to be able to manage collaborative decisions regarding that information. That certainly applies in the context of skill needs.

Sharon Ward addressed how QAD’s ERP technology is being channeled to address training and skills gap needs.  She noted that an ERP system should be focused on user productivity and ultimate ease-of-use that new users can quickly adapt to, along with the ability to attach work instructions such as videos, motion graphics or drawings to steps in workflow routing. If should further provide mechanisms to document when and why prior decisions were made and provide collaborative interaction tools, beyond just social media, to support joint decision-making with contextual and pertinent information.

Questions from our audience were direct and astute, reinforcing how difficult it is to retain skilled employees when demand exceeds available supply. One specifically inquired into whether apprentice-type programs were pertinent to address manufacturing skill needs. Another raised the issue of access to training opportunities especially related to independent contractors.

I would like to once again take this opportunity to thank QAD for the invitation to participate in such a diverse panel discussion. For those readers who are QAD customers, my understanding is that the panel session was recorded and will be made available for convenient playback.

Bob Ferrari

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