The Only Capability That Matters: The Willingness And Ability To Learn | Becky Morgan | Industry Week

“Research shows that over a million manufacturing jobs sit unfilled right now. That number is expected to increase to over 3 million by the end of this decade. A skills shortage is to blame, say most. ‘We need CNC operators, robot operators, and mechatronics skills’ say all too many manufacturing companies. […] How does a manufacturing company leader solve that problem? By emphasizing the only capability that truly matters: The willingness and ability to learn.”

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Michel Baudin‘s comments: As usual, I tend to agree with Becky Morgan. In the article’s featured image, I also noticed the learner’s gray hair and his obvious willingness to take instruction from a younger man. It reinforces Becky’s points. When you desperately need a CNC programmer, you are tempted to seek someone with just this skill to fill just this pigeonhole. What Becky says is that, not only are you unlikely to find this rare pearl but, even if you did, it wouldn’t serve you well because the skill in question would be obsolete in 5 years. Instead, she argues, you should recruit team members to learn and grow with the company.

It is, of course, not easy. I remember a large machine shop in the US with a mix of conventional and CNC machines of various vintages on its floor. The training department had a room with a small CNC lathe for wax work pieces that operators could use to learn and practice programming. One floor above was a room used for remedial reading classes and the juxtaposition of the two illustrated the challenge faced not just by this company but by manufacturing as a whole.

We still live in the legacy of the mass production era, during which manufacturing jobs were simplified and de-skilled. Today, this trend is reversed. For the same level of output, manufacturing now requires fewer but more professional people. Yes, they must be willing and able to learn, but they also need as a basis a higher level of general education than their forebears 50 or 100 years ago.

In Japan in the 1950s, Toyota recruited middle-school graduates. In the following decades, they moved on to high-school graduates and, for the Georgetown plant in Kentucky, according to Terry Besser, they hired college graduates for assembly line jobs.

Another issue is that the kind of recruiting Becky recommends implicitly is a long-term commitment by the company, that managers are only willing to make if they feel reciprocity. Hiring an employee for a specific skill he or she already possesses is not much more of a commitment than a transaction with a contractor; hiring team members for the long haul is.

Silicon Valley companies don’t hire for careers because they know that the resources they pour into their employees’ professional development today will benefit a competitor in 3 to 5 years. On the other hand, a factory set up in a rural area and offering the best economic opportunities within a 50-mi radius can expect employees to stick around — particularly if they are locals — and invest in their development with confidence that it will pay. Legitimate concerns about the loyalty of individuals, however, easily degenerate into discrimination against groups.

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