Manufacturing AUTOMATION

The skills gap, from C-suite to shop floor

August 2, 2019
By Kristina Urquhart

August 2, 2019 – Addressing the skills gap in manufacturing is a perennial topic at industry trade fairs and conferences.

Whether it’s the cohort of retiring workers, the challenge of attracting young people, or the increasingly automated production line that affects the types of roles available, there has been a lot of talk about the future of the workforce. But what are we really doing about it?

When the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) trade association released its Industrie 2030 report in 2017, 39 per cent of the 750 senior manufacturing leaders it surveyed were facing immediate labour shortages, with 60 per cent expecting to experience shortages within five years.

We’re now two years into that five-year window, so the time has come for more action. At Hannover Messe earlier this year, I sat in on a panel called “Rethinking Manufacturing Leadership,” which delved into some of the ways manufacturers are cultivating their current talent to take on leadership roles. Succession planning, or lack thereof, is another facet of the skills gap – we’re not only facing a loss of knowledge on the factory floor, but also in the C-suite.


One of the panellists was Holly Baumgart, vice-president of information technology at Sargento Foods, who noted that because technology changes so quickly, it would be impossible to keep up with the hiring. She suggested manufacturing leaders look across their organizations and foster talent everywhere. That might mean teaching administrative staff finance skills, or training plant operators to become more IT-minded. “In order to keep up, you have to use everyone you’ve got,” she said.

Pietro D’Arpa, corporate manufacturing director for Procter & Gamble, has a “build, borrow and buy” motto when it comes to procuring talent, whether for a leadership role or not. That translates to hiring the right people and helping them develop their skills, forging partnerships with other companies to fill knowledge and skills gaps, and purchasing the right products so that the team can do their jobs efficiently.

When it comes to closing the skills gap, the onus is really on the management. When our writer Jessica Wynne Lockhart interviewed Jayson Myers, CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada, for her article investigating solutions to the skills gap, he told her that three-quarters of Canadian manufacturers have invested in advanced technology – but 40 per cent report they didn’t achieve their business objectives after implementation.

“It has nothing to do with technology – [it’s] either that they couldn’t manage the technology, the technology was wrong, or the business objective was wrong,” he said. “In either case, it’s a business management problem. It’s the ability of companies to actually manage the use of technology that really counts.”

So what are manufacturers to do? Manufacturing AUTOMATION plans to bring you more stories of companies taking concrete steps to close the skills gap, along with the resources you need to connect with talent. Drop me a line to let me know what your organization is doing about jobs.

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

Print this page


Story continue below