New Skills Key to Auto Manufacturing Rebound

Sept. 28, 2011
There are six actions automakers and other manufacturers can take to create a workforce flexible enough to constantly learn and refresh the skills needed to support growth.
The automotive industry has undergone major change in recent years, shedding plants and brands, downsizing, and reducing budgets to bring costs more in line with lagging sales in a weakened economy. Now, as the industry rebounds, a new challenge could threaten its progress.The growing complexity of today’s vehicles is changing the nature of the skills needed to manufacture them. This shift is resulting in a shortage of the workforce competencies required for automakers to grow. Companies now need capabilities that go beyond traditional, repetitive vehicle assembly to include skills in emerging “green” technologies, as well as wireless services that are being embedded in cars to provide navigation, communication and other infotainment features that, between them, are creating a wave of ‘connected vehicles’.  Moreover, the globalization of the industry is adding to the challenge. As auto companies redistribute resources to high growth, low-cost regions around the world, they will increasingly need production workers who can perform in cross-cultural, autonomous international teams; problem-solve using computers; and make decisions on the production front line. Having such skills in the manufacturing arena will be critical to the ability of automakers to sustain growth in today’s changing business environment.There are six actions automakers and other manufacturers can take to create a workforce flexible enough to constantly learn and refresh the skills needed to support growth. Improve workforce planning. Create a more flexible workforce planning process using advanced analytics, such as predictive modeling that includes human resources and business data. Analytics can help executives understand and predict demand for the critical skills needed today and in the future. They also can help managers make faster decisions about individual employees, focusing on high performers and those with critical skills.Improve retraining process. Develop rapid learning processes to retrain workers when new skills training is a must. For example, when one automotive powertrain testing and vehicle development supplier decided to diversify into batteries and more fuel-efficient electric motors, the company had to retrain 40 percent of its workforce.Create job flexibility. Redesign jobs to address the flexibility needed to produce increasingly complex products that require a portfolio of skills—skills that may not be simultaneously used at any given time. To meet this need, jobs can be divided into tasks currently in demand and the skills needed to complete them, followed by those roles that can be filled as required.Analyze existing skills. Establish an internal skills market by compiling data on employees that will help determine what aptitudes, interests and competencies each worker currently possesses. This will enable manufacturers to move capabilities more swiftly to where they are needed. Having better data and a skills inventory, organizations can identify new business needs, workers with capabilities related to those needs, and fill in the gap with training for others.Enable peer-to-peer learning. Incorporate ongoing learning into the work itself by identifying workers who already have the required skills and encourage them to share their knowledge with others through peer-to-peer learning vehicles like blogs, job-shadowing or employee exchange programs. Learning also can be built into work electronically through videos, podcasts or web-based learning, targeting individuals based on demand.Creatively recruit and hire. Creatively recruit and hire skilled workers, employing social networks or online talent markets to reach and gather information on potential candidates around the globe. Also, keep potential employees interested using candidate relationship databases, and give them a better understanding of positions, augmenting interviews, for example, with videos.Auto manufacturers are striving to make the most of the industry’s resurgence. Those that develop skilled workforces capable of meeting the shifting demands of the marketplace will be able to do so, and continue down the road toward high performance.Luca Mentuccia, [email protected], is automotive industry global managing director and James Robbins, [email protected], is automotive industry North American managing director with Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company.Subscribe to Automation World's RSS Feeds for Columns & Departments