How Addressing Generational Differences Can Solve the Manpower Shortage Crisis

The Reliability University: An initiative to help industry thrive

Economic growth combined to massive retirement of labor and unprecedented pandemic at the end of the years 2010s led to shortage of manpower in many employment fields. In addition to global market being even more competitive (reinforcement of middle eastern or Asian manufacturing, low interest rates policies, digitalization, etc.), companies in North America now face the need to do more with less like never before.

The workforce shortage

A 2021 study from Deloitte revealed that US manufacturing is expected to have 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030 and there is currently an inability to find assemblers, operators, inspectors, testers, mechanics, machinists, front-line supervisors, etc. In fact, manufacturers find it 40% harder to find qualified talent than it was in 2018. 2 main causes to that are skills mismatch and the recovery from the jobs lost during the pandemic. 

Looking at the upcoming years, according to the same study, skills shortage should increase, and its various causes will be: 

  • Different expectations by the new workers with regards to the nature of the job and their careers  
  • Lack of attraction or interest in industry by students or relatives, linked to gaps in the current US education system and STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) talent.  
  • Retirement of baby boomers and population getting older (example: in 2030, almost half of the Canadian population will be 50+ years old
  • Lack of effective training programs in companies and organizations in general 

So, we might be short staff, but we will not be short of challenges

The changing nature of skills, roles and jobs

In the 2021 Deloitte Global Resilience Study, 57% of manufacturing respondents reported using advanced technologies to redesign job tasks (e.g., automating previously manual tasks). Adding more robots or other sources of automation could help maintain production, but it also puts pressure on a plant to upskill workers quickly to absorb the new technology. 

If yesterday’s jobs were highly specialized and required very specific skills, tomorrow’s workers will have to master not only the same (but evolved) specialized skills but also a blend of human capabilities (decision making or problem solving, ability to work with a variety of workers, characters, learning agility) and technology skills (data analysis, computer programs, digital systems, robotics). 

In a world about to truly enter the energy transition phase that will surely provoke disruptions in supply chains, materials shortage, hence generate social and economic tensions, the #1 requirement for the resilient organization of the future will be that all workers be more flexible/adaptable than they are today

Do not blame the youth for aspiring to different things!

What matters to new workers (let’s say workers who enter the job market in their 20s)? Simply put, they no longer care about just a good income. They now require: 

  • Flexible work options (remote work, possibility to take hours/days off more easily) 
  • A good visibility for their career progression (possibilities to learn new things, being versatile) 
  • Their employer to care about them (recognition of achievements, mentoring, good insurance and benefits, mental health support) 

Some might say they are spoiled little kids… But truly, can we blame them? Remember this generation have grown with social media and fast-evolving technology, making them aware about lots of stuff… as well as the frustrations that come with it: 

  • Difficulties to buy a first home due to  
    • housing prices going through the roof 
    • spiking interest rates (the reversed effect of the terrifically low interest rates policies in place since the 90’s, quantitative easing, 2008 financial crisis…) 
  • Growing awareness of global warming and its long-term effects on them (and even their future children) 
  • And let’s not forget the fact that they were locked down for 2 years during the COVID outbreak 

What can we do as maintenance leaders?

There are 2 ways maintenance, reliability and operations people can lead the necessary change: 

First, they need to create a culture for reliability and safety. Working in a less reactive environment will make the job more pleasant for everyone. A reliable company is also a company that do not over-consume spare parts, reduces its energy usage, and brings its production scrap/rejects down to the minimum. All these elements are in line with what the newer generations are looking for. 

Secondly, they need to implement a culture of workforce development to sustain that desire fore more reliable operations. These pathways can be based on SMRP’s Body Of Knowledge or the Uptime Elements.

Develop career roadmaps for all trades

From operators to plant manager, training programs should be built in a progressive way (start with basics and evolve to more complex stuff later). Start by assessing all employees’ current skills and knowledge, which then gives you the ability to establish more detailed and customized plans for the next years. 

Ref : Laurentide controls : example of an employee’s skills assessment 

Another key point to take into consideration is the diversity of training methods: 

  • live public courses offer a blend of people from various backgrounds/industries and highly focused contents 
  • online training enables team members to follow at their own pace 
  • onsite customized trainings can focus on more tangible problems experienced at a site and mix people from different departments together 
  • practical workshops (using test benches and simulators) are the best way to keep tradesmen focused by using their hands to reach their brains 

Finally, do not assume that because people sit in a FMEA class for 3 days instantly makes them experts in that domain. There needs to be a validation loop afterwards by implementing coaching and mentoring practices. 

You can only become a true reliability professional if you apply and implement the reliability concepts you’ve learned! 

The feedback loop

In line to that necessary “care” aspect mentioned above, it is vital that managers implement a feedback loop that works both ways. 

  1. Provide feedback to your employees: 
    • Organize one-on-one every two weeks with everyone to discuss work and non-work-related topics. 
    • Setup quarterly meetings to inform your team on what is up with the organization 
    • Focus yearly evaluations on the following: 
      • Consider where you began, where you are now and where you want to go. 
      • Assess your progress, establish your development strategy and your learning plans.  
      • Maintain initiative, always nurture the desire to learn. 
      • What should I do to prepare for the next step in my career? 
      • What have I acquired in the last year? 
  2. Give them the ability to provide feedback to you: 
    • Use anonymous polls to collect feedback on various topics, including 
      • Relationship with manager and peers 
      • Recognition 
      • Meaning of work 
      • Well-being 
      • Career perspective 
      • Working conditions 
      • Productivity 
    • Present feedback during quarterly meetings and openly discuss about some of the improvements to put in place 

Ref : Amelio

The Reliability University: a successful initiative

Launched in 2020 by Laurentide Controls, a process control, automation and reliability expert company in Montreal, QC, the Reliability University has already hired 30 junior reliability specialists from various backgrounds to become the next generation of Reliability Leaders.  

By possessing 100% of training capacities in-house thanks to experienced trainers, engineers and consultants, these cohorts of highly motivated young people are trained on the CMRP’s Body of Knowledge during the length of the program (3 years) to ultimately get their certification. 

Not only training is key but mentoring all these new recruits during the program is equally important. Senior coaches were deployed to accompany each junior resources during Master Data, PM Optimization or Lubrication Development projects. 

Eventually, by implementing all the good practices listed above in this article, Laurentide Controls continues to fulfill its mission to help industry thrive in eastern Canada by training and deploying this reserve army of reliability professionals on dozens of manufacturing and mining sites.  

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