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IMA Human Resources Blog

Can Learning and Development Be Your Competitive Differentiator?

After many years of challenges, the U.S. manufacturing industry is finally experiencing a renaissance. It’s predicted that 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be opening up across the U.S. over the next decade, implying tremendous opportunities to achieve growth and prosperity for employees and organizations alike.

The challenge is that current and prospective employees aren’t offering the skills necessary to help employers compete effectively.  Consider the following statistics gleaned from a recent Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute survey of manufacturing executives:

  • 70 percent say current workers don’t have adequate technology and computer skills.
  • 69 percent say current workers don’t have adequate problem solving skills.
  • 67 percent say current workers lack basic technical training.
  • 60 percent say current workers lack math skills.

Steps are being taken by the U.S. government to help address the skills shortage, but they won’t lead to results anytime soon, and organizations relying on government initiatives alone will incur a substantive cost of opportunity during that time.
In contrast, research has repeatedly shown that companies investing in the training and development of its people consistently outperform their competitors, both domestically and abroad.

It’s about more than results:  it’s about keeping your best and brightest people

Learning and development programs are about more than helping organization’s achieve higher revenue . They’re about helping employees reach their potential, which in turn lead higher retention rates and engagement levels.

Employment dynamics and competitive pressures in the industry are now at a point where it’s important for HR leaders to take the right next step to ensure:
-existing employees are continuously upgrading their skills;
-new hires get trained for success during the onboarding process; and
-employees feel they’re working for a company that is committed to the growth of its people.

Key elements of a learning culture

  1. Encourage regular one-on-one conversations between supervisors and their employees

In many organizations we’ve observed, development plans are set at some particular focal point during the year, and then completely neglected for the remainder of it. Progressive cultures do the opposite. They provide the resources and tools for regular, ongoing conversations between managers and their employees over the course of the entire year. There’s no magic number as to what frequency works best:  these meetings can occur weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly.
Perhaps most importantly, managers can provide recognition and feedback frequently to employees, which is a well-recognized driver of higher employee satisfaction. Regularly scheduled check-ins also allow for an iterative continuous improvement loop in which managers get to see in real-time which of the training offerings (courses, training materials, etc.) work best for their employees. Better yet, regular conversations allow for managers and employees to talk about what learning style works best. That allows them in turn to make more timely adjustments to individual learning plans, while also providing valuable feedback to L&D leaders on what training or courses need to be revised, or no longer invested in, which can lead to cost savings.

  1. Ensure there’s time allocated for development

In a recent LinkedIn Learning Solutions report, 46 percent of learning and development professionals said the biggest challenge at their organization was getting employees to make time for learning.  HR leaders who want their workplace culture to support ongoing development have to get buy-in from supervisors to encourage their employees to schedule personal development time into their week.

Admittedly, pulling workers off production lines for skills development isn’t always an easy sell to supervisors when there are production targets to hit, for example.  As such, it has to be a cultural tenet that everyone – from the C-Suite on down – consistently promotes and supports continuous learning.

Another way to show the value of skills development? Train managers first. By showing managers how to coach employees and give feedback, they become empowered in their roles as leaders. In turn, they can practice leadership skills they acquire by developing and helping employees to succeed on-the-job and by meeting their own development goals.

  1. Look beyond traditional instructor-led training

Instructor-led training (ILT) is a critical aspect of any L&D program in manufacturing. That said, for many employees, complementing ILT with online learning is often very effective, as employees can do the training in shorter chunks of time, working around their own schedule. Being able to access training online or through designated kiosks on the floor can also help workers keep up-to-date on industry guidelines, health and safety training, or new systems usage training.  The systematic tracking of all of these tends to be important for regulatory compliance.

The benefits of linking learning and performance

With the manufacturing industry set for growth, it’s the perfect time for HR leaders to take the right next step in support of both their employees and their business. The focus is on helping people constantly develop their skills in a variety of ways – all designed to help people grow and the business thrive.

By encouraging employees to develop skills they can apply to their current position or use to advance their career, employers show they’re invested in their people and want them to succeed at the organization.

About the Author

Costa Constantakis is Regional Director at Halogen Software.  He leads a team across North America who work with HR professionals and C-level Executives to design and implement talent management processes and systems.  For more information, connect with Costa on LinkedIn.