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Building Skills in the Industrial Products Industry

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As manufacturers take steps to expand their workforces, many are finding that the skills they require now are different from those that were needed prior to the recession. In this environment, industrial products manufacturers need to develop talent strategies that not only address their most immediate workforce needs, but also plan for future growth.

Industrial products manufacturers have prevailed against the downturn by containing costs, boosting innovation and adjusting their manufacturing footprint in response to the shifting global market. But, as many ramp up their operations, they are being confronted with a new challenge—finding skilled talent.

According to a recent survey of U.S. manufacturing senior executives conducted by Accenture, nearly half (48 percent) of industrial products manufacturers identified attracting, developing and retaining skilled workers as a key issue impacting their growth goals in 2012.

As manufacturers take steps to expand their workforces, many are finding that the skills they require now are different from those that were needed prior to the recession. Adding to this challenge is the fact that the manufacturing skills pipeline is threatened as many of the talented young people who might fill it are seeking careers outside of the sector, and large numbers of experienced workers are retiring, leaving a knowledge vacuum.

The survey, which included executives from industrial products, consumer goods, automotive and electronics & high tech manufacturers, also found that one-quarter of all executives believe they have a significant or very significant problem with outdated skills in their organizations. By industry, skills gaps are most prevalent among industrial products manufacturers, with 34 percent of the sector’s executives indicating that they have a significant or very significant problem.

In this environment, industrial products manufacturers that want to expand their businesses will need to develop talent strategies that not only address their most immediate workforce needs, but incorporate comprehensive planning that enables them to position for future growth as well. This includes thinking about what kind of talent is needed to drive the organization forward, how essential skills should be sourced, and what might be the optimal culture required to fuel the company’s momentum.

Core focus
There are several core areas of focus manufacturers should pursue to attract and retain talent, and prepare for the changing skill needs that will undoubtedly be required as the market evolves.

· Define talent needs based on a clear understanding of mission-critical positions and key workforce skills and competencies based on current and future strategic goals. This approach is crucial to successfully charting a pathway from workforce skills and capabilities to positive business outcomes.

· Rethink how to recruit and develop talent. For example, seek ways to expand the organization’s talent pools by getting more creative in partnerships with universities, community colleges, trade schools, and professional associations, such as the partnership Toyota has created with The University of Mississippi, establishing The Center for Manufacturing Excellence.

· Create a new employment proposition to attract and engage future workers, as well as use analytical information for candidates to provide customized talent offerings based on the specific needs of each individual to help them perform at their best. 

· Reduce the potential for skills gaps by constantly refining the skills and capabilities of all employees and workforces in support of the organization’s growth strategy.

· Develop a flexible workforce planning process, applying advanced analytics, such as predictive modeling to better understand, adjust and predict worker demand and skills needs today and in the future.

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As the industrial products market continues to evolve, finding the right talent with the right skills will be an ongoing challenge. Manufacturers will have to adopt creative talent strategies that attract and retain skilled people. They also will have to constantly assess the skills needs of the organization and continually develop appropriate, up-to-date training. Adopting this approach will be key to industrial products companies achieving high performance in the 21st century.

James Robbins, [email protected], is automotive industry & industrial equipment industry North American managing director with Accenture (www.accenture.com), a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company.

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