Eighty-nine percent of manufacturing and distribution executives are experiencing a skills gap, according to a research study performed by LMA Consulting Group Inc. and APICS Inland Empire Chapter. The skills gap has become a rapidly growing issue as baby boomers retire and employees are “on the move again” as confidence returns. Current business conditions have become more complex. Supply chains are extended. Port issues have created chaos. Security and risk are top of mind. Amazon-like offerings have shaken up the market. Regulations abound. Worse yet, 77% of executives admit they are struggling to fill positions. Thus, successfully navigating the skills gap is paramount to remaining competitive.

Here are 3 strategies executives can implement to avoid the skills gap dilemma:

  1. Retain your talent: This is the most often overlooked strategy for success. As employees are gaining comfort with the recovery, they are pursuing opportunities that offer greater responsibility, opportunities for career progression, flexibility (including remote work and/or are closer to their home), and money – just to name a few. The good news is that attrition can be avoided. The bad news is that if it were easy, we’d all be doing it. The reason it can be a challenge is that it boils down to leadership.There are a few simple yet effective strategies that take courage to implement yet have proven wildly successful. Clearly communicate your company vision and engage your employees. Allow for trial and error. Mistakes must be celebrated in the name of innovation so long as the same mistake doesn’t occur repeatedly. Prioritize your employees by spending time with them – set goals, hold them accountable, find out how you can support them, remove roadblocks, and celebrate wins. A secret to success is addressing poor performers. High-performers will thrive in this environment.
  2. Develop your talent: There are two key ways to develop your people: 1) Training and development programs. 2) Mentor programs. Exceptional leaders do not consider this an either-or situation but instead require both. There is a critical distinction between the two. Training can be addressed through a classroom setting and teaches skills. The ideal way to train is to provide hands-on exercises to illustrate the concepts. On the other hand, mentoring is behavior-based. Someone who has “been there and done that” provides expertise and coaching on how to address situations and deliberately creates situations for the mentee to try out new behaviors. There is no better way to modify behaviors than with mentoring. 
  3. Attract top talent: Although many executives start with recruiting, it should be third in priority. If you do not have the leaders in place, you’ll be unlikely to attract top talent – and you’ll certainly waste top talent once he/she is on board. With this caveat, it is the job of every leader to always be on the lookout for top talent. You’ll attract the best through referral.

The skills gap has become a serious issue. Retaining, developing and attracting top talent must be a top priority. If you have engaged and empowered employees, you’ll attract customers. Once you have happy employees and customers, profits will follow.

© Lisa Anderson