Small Medium Manufacturing – solving the skilled worker shortage problem

Small Medium Manufacturing – solving the skilled worker shortage problem

Manufacturing companies have been facing an acute skilled worker shortage for the past 10 – 15 years. Despite recessionary pressures, the labor market for people with high-tech manufacturing savvy has been tight. It is a seller’s market for sure.  

Peter Drucker (@DruckerInst) had the uncanny foresight of predicting more than 60 years ago that knowledge workers would become the most crucial resource of the coming century. Myopically incentivized corporate planners ignored these predictions and the accompanying advice that Drucker so amply provided till the end of his illustrious life.

This knowledge worker shortage crisis has been a top-of-mind concern, especially for the small, medium-sized manufacturing (SMM) companies, for reasons like these listed below:

  1. Inability to attract skilled talent with higher wages and lucrative benefits packages as compared to those offered by larger, deeper-pocketed manufacturers,
  2. The talent pool in the surrounding areas is sparse, and SMM’s are unable to invest in the costs of going pan-region. Even if they can go further afield, at significant expense, they cannot meet a potential candidate’s expectations of an excellent relocation package.
  3. A high-skilled, higher-paid knowledge worker for an SMM represents a more considerable business-impacting risk. If the new hire does not work out to be all that their resumes portrayed, or don’t get along with the company culture, then the investment, financial and time, are wasted.

Additionally, the lure of freedom from corporate fiefdom for solopreneurs and freelancers is winning the battle against the promise of a steady paycheck.

Besides the hand wringing, woe-is-me, ineffective-education-system, government-ineptitude-is-to blame approach, what is being about this pressing problem?    

Regrettably, to solve this modern world problem, companies resort to job boards, temp agencies, recruitment agencies, word-of-mouth networking, and so on, primarily last-century tools. Using those very same tools that are not working and expecting the results to be any different is insanity. Ask Ben Franklin.

The approach to this problem has to be radically different. Innovative. Bold! The solutions probably don’t even exist. Or, maybe some great solutions have been found but have not yet been publicized.

Take @Roger Sustar, for example. He teamed up with a dozen or so SMM’s and started working on programs to attract students into manufacturing. That venture blossomed into 500+ companies in Alliance for Working Together Foundation (@thinkmfg). When did Roger Sustar put his idea into action? 2002. Yes. Almost 20 years ago. Had you heard about it? Like me, most people outside the Cleveland Ohio metro area, probably did not hear about it until MIT Work of the Future Task Force (@workofthefuture) Research Brief, “Manufacturing in America: A view from the Field,” was published in Nov 2020.

If you are an SMM, the chances are that you are well past your half-life (As discussed in an earlier article). To defy the pull of statistics, you have to get the brightest minds on your team together and brainstorm. Come up with some unheard-of ideas and make some never-before-done moves. Only then can we solve one of the biggest challenges to manufacturing company survival.