Technical skills not enough

While technical skills are important, they are not everything. As Alan Johnson writes, manufacturers are advised to also include vital softer skills in their training programs. 

Manufacturing is increasingly becoming a high-tech industry with strong technical skills vital for the operation of some very sophisticated facilities in Australia. However, other more softer skills are also required as manufacturing moves into a new era. 

Bob Paton, CEO of Manufacturing Skills Australia (MSA), says that while it is important manufacturers keep their workforces' skills up to date, it is equally important the workforce has training in softer skills around lean manufacturing, good management and leadership skills. 

"These skills will develop and mature a workforce so they can face the future and the challenges that will come out of that. 

"My advice is for manufacturers to work out what their business is, where it is going, what it needs in terms of product and processes, and then what sort of skills they need to deliver on that," Paton told Manufacturers' Monthly

And rather than trying to recruit new skilled people, Paton says the investment in existing workers is far more effective and efficient.  

"Bringing an existing workforce along into the future is certainly the key to it. And there are opportunities for manufacturers to train their workers in those areas.  

"Depending on what state or territory a manufacturer is based, there are a number of training incentive and payment schemes." 

Paton pointed to the Commonwealth Government which provides a significant amount of funds into industry through the Industry Skills Fund. The Fund provides up to two thirds of the cost of training existing workers. 

The Fund is available for up-skilling existing workers; be it full qualifications, parts of qualifications or areas that are not formal qualifications, but are areas that are going to assist the enterprise in improving productivity. 

There are also incentives for employers to take existing workers and run them through additional traineeships or apprenticeships. 

According to Paton, manufacturing employers presently spend a substantial amount of money training their workers, either in formal cash outlay sense or through time off to attend other programs. 

"They are significant investors in training, with the money the public purse puts into industry training closely matched by industry," he said. 

Paton points out that there are many exciting opportunities for Australian manufacturers, but says Australia needs to prepare if it is to successfully capitalise on them. 

"It is critical that we look ahead to set a strategic direction for manufacturing and focus on developing a responsive workforce.  

"If we don't have the skills we need, when we need them, we will simply be left behind. To meet this demand, we need to make changes now, for the workforce of the future. 

"The expectations are that manufacturing will rely on high level skills, strong capabilities in technology use and greater integration of design and innovation skills. We need improved outcomes across management, customer service and business development. These skills take time to develop; we need to increase the focus on up-skilling in key areas immediately," Paton said. 

He is also calling for more e-learning opportunities, where students can learn at their own time and pace. "Both employees and employers want this". 

Attracting high performers 

To attract the high performers into the industry, Paton believes manufacturing needs a new image. 
"With a few exceptions, manufacturing today is no longer a dirty, brown smoke stack kind of industry, and can now offer prospective employees clean and exciting work. 

"The idea that only not-so-smart school leavers went into manufacturing is no longer the case. Those labour-intensive, low skilled jobs are gradually disappearing, because our economy can't afford them. 

"Many job seekers are finding they are not qualified or don't have the skills to work in today's manufacturing industry as they are not capable of doing what is required." 

Paton says one of the things that is starting to change the image around manufacturing is the push around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).  

"The debate and discussions around STEM have illustrated the increasing number of 'sexy' jobs within the industry. That itself generates a different impression and perception of what manufacturing is like today." 

Paton also believes some of the consistency of messages provided by government, in particular, and economists around manufacturing have improved and will continue to improve that image. 

"While not everyone is going to need a degree in STEM, but the STEM demands on all workers is increasing greatly with the latest technology and processes being used in the manufacturing industry." 

Paton says school students need to have a stronger focus on these areas, and they are starting to move in this direction as employers seek to recruit students with STEM skills. 

Advanced manufacturing 

Much has been written about developing the skills needed for 'advanced manufacturing'; however Paton believes we are using the wrong term, because it means many things to many people. 

"It's not just high technology, it's often about the way people go about their work. It could just be the application of Lean Manufacturing techniques into an enterprise that has never practiced Lean before, which can have a profound effect on the company's productivity and bottom line. 

"Without a change in technology, companies can become a more advanced manufacturer. It's not just about the equipment on the floor, it's about how the people go about their work, culture and attitude. I think this is a big issue in itself.  

"Putting lean processes into an existing facility with its existing equipment and combining that with more advanced technology companies will end up with a very efficient, responsive type of manufacturing operation." 

Paton says the innovation around 'advanced manufacturing' can be in several different ways, but often it needs a people investment as greatly as it needs capital investment in equipment. 

Regarding the move to 'advanced' manufacturing, he is not convinced it's all about training capabilities issue, but more centred around the enterprise approach and how manufacturers are going to change their business. 

"That's really where leadership and management skills have an impact, because if a company is looking to reposition itself they clearly need critical thinking and strategic, inno­vative leadership around that to envisage the future and to relay that and share that goal with others in the enterprise.  

"Then you need managers who can then take those visionary things and implement them," Paton said. 

Manufacturing Skills Australia 
1800 358 458 


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