Published in tED Magazine on November 2014

According to a survey performed by the LMA Consulting Group (lmaconsultinggroup.com) in conjunction with the APICS Inland Empire Chapter (apics-ie.org), 87% of manufacturers and distributors are experiencing a skills gap—that is, they have lost qualified people to retirement, job transfers, etc. The study also reveals that communication skills are increasing in importance and other skills requiring thinking— such as problem solving—are in high demand, yet frequently lacking. In short, employers’ expectations have increased, and a much broader range of skills is considered essential.

This is not surprising when looking at the postrecession era. Business has become increasingly complex and customers’ expectations are elevated. Employees must know how to navigate myriad operational complexities while managing risk and handling in – creased regulations and requirements. They must also find ways to improve service, reduce lead times, and increase value and profitability. Thus, the skills gap has widened solely due to the increase in requirements.

According to the research results, 77% of manufacturers and distributors are struggling to find qualified candidates. Thus, in addition to pursuing hiring improvements, retention and training programs are gaining in importance. In the coming years, then, as Baby Boomers retire, businesses must focus attention on both navigating the skills gap and bringing in the right talent. Key elements will be:

  • Retain. A critical area of focus should be the retention of top talent. Losing one key employee can have a significant and immediate impact on a business. Employees have gained comfort that the recession is over and are starting to think about their career options. They are beginning to pursue opportunities that offer, among other things, greater responsibility, career progression, flexibility, and money. As a result, retention of these key employees must become a top priority for success.

    Retention generally boils down to leadership. Do the leaders appreciate their employees’ value? Do they hold workers accountable? Top talent will stay when they see that nonperformers are being addressed. Having leaders who are willing to make the tough decisions can be one of the most effective ways of keeping talent. It might not matter to mediocre talent—but it matters to key players. The survey confirmed that leaders must make time to make performance management, goal setting, and mentoring a priority.

  • Train. Another critical priority is the development of talent, which acts both as a retention strategy and as a means to prepare employees for today’s complex work environment. This goal can be achieved with training/development and mentoring programs. Exceptional leaders do not consider these options as an either-or situation but instead require both.

    As research indicates, a broad range of skills is the cornerstone to success in the new-normal business environment. Therefore, when a firm focuses on both of these areas, it demonstrates to employees their value while at the same time providing them with spe cific skills and behaviors that offer career progression and cross-functional opportunities—thereby building the skills essential for an organization.

  • Recruit. Finally, it is important to attract top talent. A key to success is to always be on the lookout for talent while ensuring the organization is attractive to that top talent, so make a plan to invest time and resources into the hiring process.