Building your manufacturing talent – can you afford to be complacent?

Building your manufacturing talent – can you afford to be complacent?

Developing talent and the discussion around the scarcity of skills is somewhat a boring topic these days.  Every day organisations are confronted with the experience of talent shortages and the challenges thereof.  What is however becoming a desperate plight, is the speed at how quickly organisations respond to this people challenge.  In the past, doing somewhat what we have always done, has been acceptable, but this is no longer the case.  Creativity, innovation and the ability to deal with the complexity of business and key talent today, has become a scarce skill all in it’s own right.

“With the accelerating pace of technological change, we are seeing that many skills sets have a future life expectancy of as little as two-and-a-half to five years. For employers, adding to the complexity of acquiring and retaining talent in the modern workplace, is that organisations are starting to see evidence of the overwhelmed employee”, says Director and Manufacturing Human Capital Leader at Deloitte, Ursula Fear.

What should be even more concerning in this environment is that those not yet entered the workforce will face even higher barriers to entry, creating an ‘ explosion of unprecedented consequences’ as a result of youth unemployment in South Africa. 

“Technology is outpacing the limited skills supply and the pipeline of talent isn’t currently deep enough, nor is it being developed quickly enough. The twin challenges of innovation around increasing market share, and human capital, are what is primarily keeping CEOs awake at night,” says Fear.

She suggests the solution is for organisations to get far more involved and far quicker than they have ever been in the past.  Staff needs to be skilled in a different way to meet the demands of the 21st century workplace. Yet this responsibility of preparing workers for future challenges has never been more complex, she says. Organisations have become ‘universities of work.’

Deloitte’s 2015 Human Capital Trends Report for South Africa, which generated 151 responses across all industry groups, cited Culture and Engagement as the top priority both globally as well as in South Africa. This issue was followed closely by Leadership, which fell from the top issue last year.

Reinforcing the looming skills gap, Learning and Development was rated the third most important issue, being the fastest climber as it received three times the number of votes it had the prior year. This was the case both globally and in South Africa. 

Underscoring the skills deficit, almost a third (32%) of South African respondents reckoned they measured ‘Poor’ in meeting the tremendous challenges of work overload in their current situation and said they “could be doing much more,” while 13% admitted to having no focus at all in this area. “Productivity and staff efficiency would certainly be concerns arising from this,” says Fear.

“The biggest challenge facing businesses is that we live in an increasingly results-driven culture, and are moving into an environment where knowledge and resources need to be ubiquitous – it’s awakening the way we learn that is becoming important,” she says.

“In these circumstances, there are ominous signs everywhere of ‘overwhelmed employees’ who are effectively connected 24 hours a day every day of the year. As a result, people are burning out and their ability to be creative and agile in their thinking is certainly taking a beating.” The report also highlighted that ‘purposeful or meaningful work’ was a significant and major contributor to employee engagement and satisfaction. 

This becomes particularly important with millennials who are starting to become the major age group of our businesses. However, leaders are equally under strain as they too need to constantly evolve to keep pace with the business of tomorrow, dealing with different ways of taking the business forward and attracting and retaining the right talent pools in order to do this.

She emphasised that businesses as well as tertiary education institutions need to look at how they build work-ready competencies and skills that are appropriate for the businesses both of today and of tomorrow. A renewed energy around vocational qualifications and apprenticeships needs to be ignited urgently, where learning institutions, business and learners take on this task with new attitudes towards learning. Were this to occur, South Africa would be in a far better position to improve on areas like engineering and specialist skills, while vocational qualifications like fitters and turners and technicians should not be ignored as apprenticeship and vocational training facilities desperately need to improve the way these skills are developed.

Fear says, sophistication and technology further perpetuates the skills and talent crisis the world faces. “Organisations are finding the shelf lives of their critical skills shortening faster every day. A particular challenge for the manufacturing sector is that it is not regarded as a viable, or a ‘sexy’ career option, by younger workers.”

“There is an opportunity to rebrand a sector like manufacturing to drive home that it is cool to be involved in the high-tech side of, for example, making a car. It must be seen as technology that is driven, fast moving and exciting for millennials. That is getting to the bottom of the retention problem – the perception of manufacturing can be a lot sexier than many perceive it to be,” she says.

According to Fear, HR departments also need to adapt to the times. “There is a need to re-skill the HR functions too. They need to have the ability to understand what the business is about and be at the heart of the business as a strategic support function,” she says.

Deloitte Review of the Manufacturing Sector in the US raises similar concerns to the ones in South Africa. The report says manufacturers need to ramp up recruiting and talent development efforts and turn a watchful eye to finding ‘hyper-skilled’ workers who have the requisite skills to keep up with today’s dynamic manufacturing environments, and who also possess traits that indicate adaptability, such as creativity, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking skills, to meet future needs. 

“Perhaps the introduction of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) schools needs to be an education focus for South Africa going forward. This, together with efficient high-quality vocational and apprenticeship training, can certainly start to improve South Africa’s contribution to manufacturing both in South Africa and on the continent at large,” says Fear.

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