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5 Best Practices for Reskilling Your Manufacturing Workforce


It’s likely that the COVID-19 crisis has changed your business operations. For example, in response to the crisis, you might need to alter your company’s production line, cleaning and scheduling practices, supply chain partners, distribution methods and even product offerings. Whether these changes are temporary or you’re using recent product and operational shifts as blueprints for the future, you’ll likely need to retrain or “reskill” workers.

Even before the pandemic, rapid technological advances made retraining workers necessary for many manufacturers. Perhaps you’ve already invested considerable time and money ensuring employees are proficient using the most innovative equipment. But if your business model is changing and you want it to be successful, you’ll likely need to re-educate your workforce.

Five Best Practices

Consider the following best practices for reskilling your workforce:

1. Identify what needs to change. Pinpoint the skills that will be the most valuable in the future and gear training programs to those skills. Also, decide what new roles need to be created and how daily operations should change. If, for example, employees previously had limited customer contact but will now participate in sales activities, their training programs should reflect this.

2. Don’t just reskill, up-skill. Start the retraining process by training workers for the jobs that produce optimal value. “Value” depends on the manufacturer, but most companies in the industry will benefit if workers know how to operate digital tools and can adapt and show resilience in the face of rapid change. Make sure that training in these areas accommodates a range of employee learning curves.

3. Customize your learning plan. If you’re in the process of reimagining your business model, develop a detailed view of the core activities and required skillsets that will be needed in the next 12 to 18 months. You can customize learning plans to specific roles, but also scale up by training workers digitally. The most effective digital tools, such as live video sessions, replicate in-person learning methods.

4. Test and adapt. There’s no guarantee your company will develop a perfect reskilling plan on its first attempt. Be willing to acknowledge mistakes and fix them. The skills you’re sharpening now, even with a few missteps, can pay dividends later — particularly if your company is forced to adapt to disruptive events again.

5. Spend money to make money. All the plans in the world will fail if you don’t have adequate financial resources for reskilling employees. Be careful not to skimp on this point. Modify your budget to make skill-building a point of emphasis.

Smaller May Be Better

A recent survey from a leading management company revealed that reskilling efforts at small companies (those with fewer than 1,000 employees) are often more successful than those at larger companies, even though bigger entities typically have greater resources. Smaller companies  are generally more nimble and better able to shift workers around, and managers may have less red tape to contend with.

Smaller companies may also have a better handle on their skill deficiencies. This makes them better at prioritizing issues and choosing the best candidates for reskilling.

An Accelerated Trend

There’s nothing new about the need for reskilling. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated a major manufacturing industry trend. If your business is pivoting in response to recent shifts in customer demand or because of changing supply chains or financial conditions, put reskilling at the top of your priority list. It is a critical task necessary to return to more profitable times.

Contact VonLehman’s Human Resources Consulting Group at 800.887.0437 for guidance related to this topic.

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