Bridging the skills gap: How maintenance and reliability training can improve

October 9th, 2018
Bridging the skills gap: How maintenance and reliability training can improve

Maintenance and reliability professions face an ever-widening skills gap. A joint report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute predicted that as many as 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled by the end of the decade. Due to high retirement numbers among baby boomers and lack of technical skills among college graduates, industry stakeholders face a challenge that isn't likely to disappear soon.

Traditional approaches to training are insufficient

Extending the knowledge of an existing workforce has proven difficult for many organizations. Common problems include poor implementation strategy, lack of insight into specific skills gaps and inability to properly capture the knowledge of retiring experts.

It's common for a manager to receive approval on a training budget, then pick some developmental programs for everyone. In these cases, a few people may get the training they need, but many others may be forced to sit in on training that is not relevant to their position. Without taking the time to understand specific skills gaps, stakeholders cannot effectively plan to meet the skills needs unique to their organization.

There are many challenges to overcome

Lack of strategy is only one barrier to success. Companies that want to stay relevant in the future need to understand what's stopping them from moving forward. As baby boomers retire, they take years of experience with them. Finding ways to capture their knowledge via a content management system is one step toward preserving a useful repository of critical information.

Other barriers are more difficult to overcome. For example, there is an unfounded belief among the general population that maintenance and reliability work is a consistently dirty job. When graduating high schoolers imagine the industry, they see dusty coal mines and smoggy factories. The average layperson may not be aware of the lucrative maintenance job opportunities which exist within the pharmaceutical and food processing industries, for example.

The result of this public relations challenge is a low number of people applying to trade schools and gaining the skills necessary to become maintenance and reliability professionals. According to a 2017 survey from the College Savings Foundation, 9 percent of graduating high school students are considering vocational schools in lieu of a four-year degree. Supporting industry efforts to improve outreach to younger generations could become part of a long-term solution to the skills crisis.

In the short term, technology investments and strategic planning likely hold the key to closing the gap.

Manufacturing could face a labor shortage of up to 2 million professionals by the end of the decade.Manufacturing could face a labor shortage of up to 2 million professionals by the end of the decade.

A strategic approach to training supports a new generation of workers

Combating the skills gap requires a strategic approach to education. One-size-fits-all solutions leave money on the table by failing to engage younger workers and provide training that is irrelevant to a portion of the learning group. To be more effective, company stakeholders need to take a more personalized, strategic and tech-driven approach to skills training.

According to reliability expert and educational leader Shon Isenhour, a strategic approach to skills training can be broken down into six parts:

  1. Stakeholders determine which skills are needed for each role.
  2. Staff are assessed against the necessary skills to determine where knowledge gaps exists.
  3. Leaders then develop individual, customized training plans.
  4. Teams leverage technology to take the training plan and introduce it the students.
  5. Students apply learned topics in the real world to assess results and fortify their ability to retain knowledge.
  6. Through these stages coaching techniques provide students with timely feedback.

This approach to skills development is effective because it draws on the reality of an organization's current state of training, utilizes personalized educational tools and reinforces learning with practical experiences.

As time progresses, new technologies will play bigger roles in closing the gap. For example, augmented reality glasses can show personnel specific guides in real time, as they perform maintenance tasks. These solutions can be customized for any kind of equipment. The initial investment in such technology can be substantial, however.

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, supported by ultrasound readings, can provide stakeholders with highly detailed action plans for every piece of equipment within a given facility.

Improving skills training among maintenance and reliability personnel is a long-term project with many challenges. When you have the right technology on your side, it will be easier to find opportunities to effectively train the next generation of workers. For more insights, visit our resource center today.

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