How to build a talent pipeline in the era of Industry 4.0

For most forward-looking manufacturing businesses, talent planning is becoming a major focus. Skills gaps continue to grow as a result of an ageing workforce, increasing movement within job markets and the impact of Industry 4.0.

Certainly, Ai Group’s own research and policy work supports this conclusion, and it’s echoed by recent market research undertaken by those at “the big end of town”, such as PwC and CEB. Our Members continue to report challenges in filling STEM-related roles, including some engineering disciplines.

In Victoria, the fill rate reported by the Department of Employment’s Labour Economics Office is currently at 67%, with companies deeming only 1.9 out of 50.8 applicants per job to be ‘suitable’.

Given statistics such as these, is it time to reassess the way we view talent and how we are attracting it? Perhaps a longer-term approach would be beneficial to manufacturing organisations, building a talent pipeline of future leaders and innovators who are specialists within their field of production.

According to CEB, when a vacancy arises there are essentially three talent options available, based on the candidates’ ability to execute the tasks and their engagement or communication skills:

1. BUY – buying a candidate who is a top performer in both these areas.

2. BUILD – employ a candidate with potential and build these skills via training and mentoring.

3. BUY AND BUILD – a combination of the two, recognising the need for development by conducting a training needs analysis.

Within technical industries, including manufacturing and engineering, the BUY option is proving to be a rarity. Skill sets are short and top performers are in such high demand that the competition is fierce and the costs high.

The BUILD option can potentially be a cost-effective long-term solution. However, it is worth noting that accurately identifying internal talent before investing in their development is the best way to derive a return on your investment.

Most organisations promote for functional expertise without consideration of the “soft skills” required for good leadership – which are usually the hardest ones to find! The result is that many organisations are led by competent functional specialists, and they then wonder why they continue to under-perform.

But what if you were to start the process of building a talent pipeline of future leaders earlier – leaders who can develop both functional competence and the requisite attributes and aspirations to lead manufacturing through the challenges presented by Technology 4.0, internationalisation of service and a world we cannot yet imagine?

New university graduates present the opportunity to BUY AND BUILD talent. No graduate, unless they have extensive work experience, will meet all of the required skill sets for a technical role. But what they lack in experience, they can make up for in enthusiasm, agility, resilience, and the curiosity that leads to innovation.

With the current lack of skills in our market, manufacturing growing month-on-month and global competition taking hold, it is imperative that our industry takes steps to attract, develop and retain the next generation of talent – and to build innovative, forward-thinking leaders of the future.

This has been the inspiration behind Ai Group’s new Graduate Employment Service, which we launched at Parliament House in October.

Our service is intended to solve this problem. Our Graduate Employment Service team works closely with businesses, universities and graduates to identify ways in which to connect graduates to real jobs, and provide organisations with the right talent pool for the future.

Part of that service includes a mentoring program for graduates to accelerate their productivity and learn how to navigate the rapidly changing business landscape. A recent placement of the service, Harry, is one fine example of the Buy and Build strategy.

He is about to embark on a promising career as a Project Engineer with the highly innovative Adelaide-based company, Sage Automation.

In Harry’s words: “Despite being comfortable in my intern and tutoring jobs, I wanted to take the next steps in my career, and began searching for a full-time engineering position.

This led me to the Graduate Employment Service team, which helped with testing me, organising interview times, and providing other behind-the-scenes assistance to ensure I was in the best position possible to succeed at interviews.

“SAGE Automation is renowned for expertise in systems integration and control, and they’re intimately involved with self-driving car technologies and the upgrades to infrastructure these require.

I was given the chance of a role as a Project Engineer, and I’m excited about the opportunity to jump aboard and help build the future of our country.”

People like Harry will indeed have a big role to play in building that future, and we’re hoping to give many graduates like him, and the manufacturing industry as a whole, the chance to do so