Manufacturing: The New Reality: A Lack of Skill but No Lack of Excuses

What is one of the most discussed topics in newspapers, magazines, association meetings and all over the internet when it comes to the future of manufacturing? Yes, you guessed right, it is the lack of a skilled workforce.

It amazes me that everyone talks about the lack of a skilled workforce but no one considers the real issue and that is the lack of skilled management. After all, this isn't new, the fact is that it's been a brewing dilemma for decades yet with a few exceptions here and there, next to nothing has been done about it. In the past, immigrants with specialized skills and knowledge brought along their expertise but is this really something we want to rely on? Are we comfortable with the future we are creating for our children? Is it really only about money or is there a bigger responsibility that comes into play?

Please believe me when I say that many of our challenges today have less to do with government policies than with the dramatic shift from the industrialized age to the age of high technology and the knowledge worker. Companies have to start developing a self-interest in educating the workforce. They have to incur the cost before they can reap the benefits. Today's leadership has to understand that people are not mass-produced. Employees are unique human beings with different skills, talents, feelings and beliefs that can be leveraged by helping them to become the best they can be and to reach their full potential.

We have become a society that likes customized products and we are willing to pay a premium for it. The time of mass production will slowly become history. Manufacturers today have to think about how they can discover their own uniqueness and their own voice by creating a culture that helps them to stand out from their competition. This will attract youth and a skilled workforce. The goal however, cannot simply be to awaken an interest in our young people to choose manufacturing as a career. We also have to consider what would make them want to stay.

I hear a lot of complaints that our young people don't want to work but the reality is that we have to learn to understand what motivates them and help them to perform to the best of their abilities. Generation Y is not only interested in a bottom line that shows a profit. They don't want to feel that they have talents that are going to waste and sitting idle due to a lack of leadership and organizational focus.

It is my goal to increase awareness that manufacturing offers a world full of possibilities. Everything we want our children to be and to have can be found within this vital industry. We just have to allow ourselves to see the possibilities by opening up our minds.

I posted several discussions on the internet to gain greater insight and the perspectives from others as to what they think about the lack of skilled management. As I was reading one comment after the next, I came to the sudden realization that the majority answered my question based on their beliefs that obviously come from past experiences. Most people equated the term "skilled management" with people who have either learned a trade or worked their way up through the ranks.

I want to be very clear. Great leadership in manufacturing environments can come from inside or outside the organization but it is not necessarily a matter of having learned a trade or having several degrees.

Yes, there is a lack of skilled management and it certainly is true that too many people are in management positions who haven't spent sufficient time working on the floor to get a good understanding of what their workforce goes through on a daily basis, but before we go any further let me define the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager is paid to lead, to lead by example and to lead the way. On the other hand, a leader doesn't rely on power, title and position and makes a difference by leading people in his or her own circle of influence.

What keeps many managers from becoming true leaders? Here is the challenge. Most managers are judged on performance-based targets and if this is the only gauge, we face a serious problem. If we look at the balance sheet, we see that machines are an asset and people are an expense. Sadly, that's still a belief that rules most decisions. In this new reality, knowledge workers should be the link to all other investments in an organization. That's a completely new concept that still needs to sink in. People are not things and they cannot be managed as things especially if you want them to show responsibility, initiative and ownership. Taking responsibility means giving people the ability to respond.

Regardless of how you came to be in a management position, the real skill lies in connecting with people and earning their trust by finding out what's on their mind. What gives them a sense of fulfillment and joy? What are their fears and frustrations? How can you tap into the collective brainpower of your team and make them want to give it their all?

Remember, going above and beyond on a daily basis is a discretionary effort.

How many people in our workforce today do you think possess more talent, skill, creativity and intelligence than their current job requires or even allows? Does it make sense to you that we have to do more with less, yet the majority of people are still seen as bodies instead of brains?

So what will it take to become a major player with a skilled workforce?

Only those who are willing to learn a completely new skill set and demonstrate a newfound respect for humanity will win this game in the long run.