An Industry Week Special Research Report titled ‘The Future of Manufacturing in 2020 and Beyond’ highlighted how changes in management priorities and technology adoption is enabling competitiveness in the manufacturing industry across the globe. This report specified that the manufacturing sector is overwhelmingly positive about their business growth prospects even in the face of rising material prices, market volatility, increasing labour costs, price reduction pressures etc.
The industry, however, has realised that in order to mitigate these challenges it has to identify ways to improve performance across a range of processes and capabilities. Be it strengthening customer relationships, using technology for improvements in processes and production or placing innovation as a strategic priority, to achieve the growth targets, manufacturing companies need to invest in areas that improve productivity and responsiveness.
Scaling the training needs of manufacturing today
A survey from Deloitte shows that while the manufacturing industry might be on an upward trajectory, there is a huge skills gap in this industry. This is due to the coinciding of baby boomer retirement with economic expansion, loss of embedded knowledge due to the retirement of experienced workers, and lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills amongst workers. The survey further shows that out of 67% of those surveyed, 56% anticipated worsening shortage over the next few years.
In order to close the skills gap, manufacturing companies have turned towards aggressive training and development initiatives.
Classroom Training needs an upgrade
With the coming of age of Industrie4.0, leading manufacturing companies such as Arcelor Mittal, Toyota, Permac Industries etc. have realised that focusing on training and development is the only way to build and retain a skilled production workforce.
With this sector, learning and development needs of the employees are usually addressed using classroom training. While this has worked in the past, in the face of rapid changes and widespread technological advancement and adoption, it doesn’t emerge as a viable alternative today for a variety of reasons, such as:
Large and distributed workforce
The manufacturing sector employs a large and distributed workforce with varying skill levels. Since the companies need multi-skilled workers, they need to assess the learning needs of each individual. Understanding new concepts, learning new skills and new principles and applications take time to learn. And time is a premium.
It can be a huge logistical challenge to get the employees from disparate locations to attend a training program or to even identify which employee needs to attend a training and who doesn’t. Classroom training also means downtime which can affect the company bottom line over a period of time.
The costs associated with classroom training are substantial. Apart from the man-hour requirements of the instructors, there is the cost of bringing in employees from different locations to the training location. Additionally, classroom training demands long and extensive trainer and supervisor involvement to ensure that the employees learn the desired skills. Classroom training for new hires can also be cumbersome and adds to training costs since new employees keep joining in new locations at any given time.
It becomes difficult to scale classroom training programs. Since the needs of the manufacturing sector keep changing, they need to ensure that the training programs have the capability to scale as well. For example, in the face of compliance and regulatory changes, coming up with a new classroom training programs is not only resource intensive but expensive as well. Bringing employees up to speed on changing laws, regulations etc. by creating new programs each time does not show economic value. Apart from this, taking a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to training defeats its purpose since not all employees have the same training needs.
Lack of skilled trainers
Classroom training also needs skilled and experienced trainers. In this industry, training types vary greatly. Training has to be conducted across jobs, divisions and cross divisions by subject matter experts. It has to be disseminated to address the needs of different types of people from different countries or regions, in different languages while ensuring the learning absorption takes place. Finding skilled trainers to meet all these requirements can be a challenge.
The solution is simple
For several types of training needs which are aimed at creating awareness and knowledge, eLearning emerges as a great solution. It can help manufacturing companies navigate the complexities presented by classroom training. It gives them the flexibility to train a wide workforce in specific skills at their own pace. eLearning helps in improving learner engagement by presenting the content in short, bite-zed nuggets in a device-agnostic manner and makes learning easier to consume and retain. It is also a cost-effective solution since it removes the element of employee downtime. Employees can access learning materials on the go, anywhere, anytime. Technology-aided learning programs can be scaled, updated, and disseminated with minimal time investment as well.
Obviously, only eLearning cannot be a solution for all types of training programs. The programs aimed at building skills and expertise or the programs which require hands-on training do need to rely on classroom training method where there is a closer interaction with the trainer. Adopting a Blended Learning approach, one that organically amalgamates classroom and online training, helps in developing a well-defined learning solution that helps in making learning not only proactive and easy but also continuous.