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Training for Manufacturing Requires Small Steps

Bruce Morey
By Bruce Morey Senior Technical Editor, SME Media

Tooling U-SME, a unit of SME, released a new report on “Balancing Operations and Training: Small Steps Create Big Wins.” The report provides action steps that can boost employee productivity and morale, despite heavy production demands. While the best approach is to create an overarching strategy for a sustainable, performance-driven learning program, manufacturers can no longer wait until that is in place before acting.

In this interview with Manufacturing Engineering Jeannine Kunz Vice President, Tooling U-SME provided some insights into the motivations behind the report and why organizations should use the report to help them in training and workforce development.

Jeannine Kunz

Manufacturing Engineering: What prompted Tooling U-SME to go into this topic?

Kunz: That is a great question. Here at SME, we focus on all the best practices that make world-class learning in organizations. We have been preaching those to manufacturers for some time. Right now, business is good, manufacturers are busy, even as they realize the workforce side is lacking in terms of available talent. We cannot just tell manufacturers what they should be doing to build world class learning in their organizations, we must also consider the unique business challenges manufacturers face including production demands, quality, safety, and adopting new technologies to innovate. Manufacturers realize they need to invest in their people by providing continual learning opportunities. However, they find it difficult to allocate the time, resources, and expense needed for training in balancing manufacturing operations and people development.

ME: It sounds like there is a gap between desired outcomes and the ability to produce those. Is that the Execution Gap?

Yes, it is more than the work skills gap, the Execution Gap focusses on taking action to close the skills gap. Surveys have shown that 99 percent of manufacturers have a challenge with finding talent, but 54 percent don’t even have a plan. Many of those that do have plans also identified that they haven’t really thought about the future but, at least they have something. Why is this so difficult?  In talking with manufacturers, it is easy to see how there is a lot going on between executing their traditional business, evaluating and incorporating new technologies, automation, etc.  while building a world-class learning organization.

ME: It sounds like they really do not know where to start. What do you suggest?

Just pick one thing, do that, and then pick another thing and do that. Get some success, gain momentum, and measure impact.

The report highlights two recommended strategies that help manufacturers get started.

‣Strategy #1: Review and evaluate High-Impact Learning Organization (HILO) characteristics

‣Strategy #2: Implement best practices proven to most quickly bring a strong return on investment

ME: Your report has many good suggestions. What advice would you give manufacturers to motivate them towards closing that gap?

Every manufacturer can buy the same equipment. They can source the same materials, [buy the same software.] But it is the people they put to program it, to maintain it, to operate it, that will make the difference in those two machines. So that is your differentiator. While developing skilled people does not show up on your balance sheet, it should be your number one competitive differentiating asset. 

To get more information and download the report, please visit

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