Bass: Is it possible that both workers, employers have gaps to fill?

Edward Bass

When we discuss the workforce gap, we are usually discussing the skills that industry needs versus the skills candidates have. If you are an employer facing this gap, you may want to consider your options for closing the gap by moving toward the other side.

Let’s consider the case of a real person as he began entering the workforce recently. “Ralph” is attending community college part time. He worked one summer in an assembly plant, then one month in a fulfillment/distribution center.

The initial job was interesting at first, but without a team to assist him, the tasks were too challenging on assembly knowledge, and physically uncomfortable. The second job had a better environment and great pay, but long shifts that were exhausting to Ralph. He decided the money was not worth it and quit without telling his supervisor.

Is Ralph unfit because he lacks soft skills, assembly knowledge and is looking for a comfortable, eight-hour job? Not entirely. Ralph has had more math in high school than many from his parents’ generation had in college. Unlike some of the older workers in industry, he is technologically savvy, with an affinity for computers and the “internet of things.” With some on-the-job training and mentoring, perhaps Ralph would fit some of the technical jobs going unfilled today.

Is Ralph unique in his preferences? According to a 2010 article in the Journal of Business Psychology, millennials have a greater need for work-life balance and teamwork. 

Has business got the message? Consider this example:

In the lobby of a substantial distribution center along Interstate 81, there is a waiting area with computers set up for job applications. The receptionist guides large numbers of applicants through the process. Human resources specialists call for the waiting candidates in the order they arrived. It is not unlike a state motor-vehicle office. It appears that this distribution firm, and perhaps many others, has accepted mass exchange of employees as the way to have a workforce.

If retention is a problem at the assembly plant, management might consider having some areas of the facility air-conditioned and physically more comfortable. More importantly, assigning a mentor and a team are crucial for new workers to feel supported. Finally, if the skill gap is truly the issue, an employer should consider tuition reimbursement for promising employees.

In any case, millennials will do best on assignments which take full advantage of the skills that they bring to the workplace without overwhelming them to the point of frustration. People are motivated most when they are using skills they already have with enough challenge to avoid boredom. What if workers had real-time production data and quality metrics to measure their progress against goals that they help set? 

It may become a “game” that workers and management will both win. Add teaming to the model just described, and you have the social network, along with the “game,” to keep workers engaged in a mission together. Teams spark creativity and motivation in the workplace.

The examples above do not apply to every workplace, but any workplace with high turnover and/or vacancies needs to identify the reasons for their gaps. Lean principles and continuous improvement demand that people be involved in correcting the processes in which they work. So much more can and should be considered on the problem of workers and the workplace. 

Another step to closing the gap would be to attend the Manufacturing 4.0: Creating a Skilled Workforce conference on Aug. 14 at Hagerstown Community College.

Edward Bass is an instructor in advanced manufacturing systems at Hagerstown Community College. His email is eabass@hagerstowncc.edu.