Industry Trends

What is the Soft Skills Gap, and How Can Manufacturers Fill it?

Ninety-two percent of executives think that American workers aren’t as skilled as they need to be. As a result, they feel they are missing out on growth opportunities, that product development is suffering and that company profits are being hurt.

Enter: The skills gap.

“Industry analysts estimate 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will open in the next ten years,” says Glenn Johnson, Manufacturing Workforce Development Leader at BASF, a multi-national chemical producer.  “Projections indicate that the skills gap will leave two million of these jobs going unfilled.”

Soft skills vs. hard skills

When looking for the right hires, manufacturing leaders consider two skill areas: soft skills and hard skills. Let’s break them down.

Hard skills. A hard skill is loosely defined as one that can be easily measured or quantified. Usually learned on the job or through specific training, hard skills are pretty straightforward and show proficiency in areas (such as machine operation and computer programming), and are often listed right on an employee’s resume. They can also come in the form of courses, certifications and degrees.

Soft skills. Soft skills, on the other hand, are a little harder to measure. While some manufacturing workers may downplay the importance, 77 percent of employers actually believe that soft skills are just as important as hard skills. Some examples include:

  • Effective communication. While it’s important to have technical knowledge, manufacturing workers should also be able to communicate these terms and ideas to a non-technical audience. Similarly, managers expect employees to be able to effectively communicate with their coworkers, subordinates or superiors.
  • Ability to work as a teammate. Teamwork promotes higher morale, successful problem solving and widespread learning. Manufacturing recruiters are looking for a teammate who is supportive, keeps a positive attitude and knows how to offer appropriate feedback.
  • Creativity. While many manufacturing workers follow standard processes, that doesn’t mean they have to squander any creative ideas. Instead, managers are seeking employees who can think of ways jobs can be done better, quicker and more efficiently.

Soft skills are crucial for creating a company culture that is profitable, meaningful and sustainable. However, less than half of executives rated their employees’ soft skills as above average.

skills gap

Manufacturing: Filling the soft skills gap

While other sectors are affected, manufacturing suffers the most from the soft skills gap. Here’s what the industry is doing about it.

Surveying the workforce. While 40 percent of employers are worried about how their shortage of qualified workers impact their company’s bottom line, less than one-third of them have taken action to determine the change in their firm’s demographic makeup. But how can leaders address an issue without knowing where it stems from?

Whether through the use of internal resources or an employee auditing consultant, some manufacturers are taking the time to assess their workforces skills. Areas they’re identifying:

  • The demographics of the workforce. Who are the current workers? What’s the tenure of the average employee?
  • The workforce’s capacity to learn new skills.
  • What the company is doing to stay competitive in the industry. How does the current workforce figure into those plans?

By identifying the current climate of the workforce, manufacturing leaders are able to implement strategies that directly address the gaps.

Internships and student programs. Today’s students are tomorrow’s manufacturers. While many schools or training programs may provide young professionals with the technical skills required to complete a job, students still lack experience building soft skills. To make up for this gap, manufacturing organizations are beginning to address the issue before employees even enter the workforce.

Whether it’s through high school camps or college internships, the best learning programs offer diverse experiences beyond stereotypical coffee runs or busywork. By exposing students not only to technical training, but to real-world interpersonal situations and problem-solving scenarios, leaders are investing in the industry’s future.

Changing company culture. Once companies have identified the soft skills required for their organization, they’re able to embed it right into their company culture — starting with recruitment techniques. By making soft skills a priority, they’re able to seek new candidates who display those qualities during the interview process. From there, manufacturing managers can set soft skill goals during performance reviews to hold all levels of employees accountable.

To reinforce this culture, it’s up to management to give them the right learning tools. By providing opportunities for face-to-face meetings, team-building workshops or other circumstances that require employees to work together, manufacturing managers can help employees achieve their goals.

Company training. Eighty-nine percent of those who believe there is a skills gap in the U.S. workforce believe corporate apprenticeships or on-the-job training programs could help solve the problem.

Is it worth it for employers? According to Harvard Business Review, it is. Not only do employers report high satisfaction with these employee’ skills, performance and reliability, but they also receive a 38 percent return on investment from lower recruitment costs and a reduces need for costly contractors.

Do you know a manufacturing process that’s addressing the soft skills gap? We’d love to hear. Let us know on Twitter @AppleRubber.