8 Manufacturing Skills To Master and How To Own the Skills Gap

Abby Baumann May 31, 2022
manufacturing skills

As the manufacturing sector continues to go through changes and develop, it’s important to remember the core skills that can help you succeed in the workplace. Having strong skill sets of both hard skills and soft skills ensures that you and your team can adapt to changing workplace environments — and builds a strong foundation of talents and techniques.

Having strong skills also helps you avoid the manufacturing skills gap. This occurs when there isn’t a manufacturing workforce with the developed manual, operational, or technological skills needed to fill manufacturing jobs. In this article we’ll talk about the eight best manufacturing skills to master and how they will help you own the skills gap in your factories.

The Importance of Manufacturing Skills

Manufacturing skills are the types of soft, technical, or hard skills that are required in order to succeed in manufacturing. Knowing how to create a strong foundation of manufacturing skills also helps businesses attract the right skilled workers or upskill their current workforce. If you want to excel in your manufacturing career, either as an employee or as a manager, you need to be able to develop and hone your own manufacturing skill sets.

When an entire team is able to grow and evolve their skills, it makes for a more productive working environment. It also fosters a professional, united workforce that can come together to help a business succeed. A business that doesn’t prioritize manufacturing skills in its leadership and workforce can struggle to fill positions, achieve new goals, and adapt to more technologically-driven processes and practices.

8 Manufacturing Skills to Master

Now that you have a little more understanding of why manufacturing skills matter in the workplace, let’s dive deeper into some of the core skills that everyone on your team should master. These eight different skills are a combination of technical skills and soft skills, all of which should blend together to create a well-rounded employee and individual.

1. Digital Tools

As the manufacturing world continues to become more digital and technology-focused, it’s important that you are able to understand and use the digital tools that are becoming prevalent on the floor. You want to be able to hone your abilities to use new systems, technologies, platforms, and software for digital data and AI tools. Not only will this help you move along with the company as it improves processes and systems, but it also helps raise your value to the company and opens you up to more growth opportunities.

Ways To Develop This Skill

Here are some ways that you can develop your ability to understand digital tools:

  • Attend seminars or trainings for new tools.
  • Watch demos or product videos online.
  • Take a computer fluency course or class.

2. Programming Manufacturing Devices

It’s no secret that factories are dependent on machines to create products. However, as technology and artificial intelligence continue to develop, there is less of a need for employees to operate and manually run machines. Instead, the needs of the factory have shifted to employees who can program machines and manufacturing devices. Knowing how to program advanced engineering software can help you appeal to more employers and increase your standing at your company.

Ways To Develop This Skill

Here are some ways that you can develop your programming skills:

  • Take online CAD, CAM, or CNC training courses.
  • Practice programming and coding.
  • Ask other employees for demonstrations of new machines and programming tools.

3. Robotic Monitoring

Robots and advancements in manufacturing go hand in hand. Robotics skills are important to develop as manufacturing continues to place more investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning programs. Robotics skills could include the ability to program or repair robotic systems, program automated systems, and monitor robotic and machine performances over time. These skills help you increase your value and ensure that your skill sets are developed enough to open up new opportunities.

Ways To Develop This Skill

Here are some ways that you can develop your robotic monitoring skills:

  • Research the different types of robotics that will be used in your company.
  • Take online robotics courses.
  • Attend a class that helps you learn about robotics or programming.

4. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

While there are some jobs in the factory that can be taken over by machines or robots, there are many different positions that require human skills. Human skills include things like complex problem solving and critical thinking. When you have the ability to analyze and solve problems in the workplace, you can quickly resolve issues, troubleshoot problems, and respond to developments or complications with accuracy.

Ways To Develop This Skill

Here are some ways that you can develop your critical thinking and problem-solving skills:

  • Volunteer to solve problems in your organization.
  • Play logic and critical thinking games.
  • Pay attention to the practices of industry leaders and influencers.

5. Communication

Communication skills are another example of soft skills, otherwise known as interpersonal skills. These types of skills don’t rely on technical knowledge and know-how, but instead focus on the important complex relationships between people. These skills are especially important to those who want careers in management or leadership. Communication in particular is important to help develop the verbal skills needed to work well with others and solve interpersonal problems in the workplace.

Ways To Develop This Skill

Here are some ways that you can develop your communication skills:

  • Listen to the conversations around you and encourage more teamwork.
  • Think through every response you want to give before you speak.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues like body language and behavior.

6. Technical Machining

While soft skills like problem solving and communication are important, you also need to have the technical skills that are unique to your industry or manufacturing process. These technical machining skills can help you understand how to use machines and complete important tasks within your manufacturing plant. You want to have a good understanding of the machines used in your factory and in the industry at large.

Ways To Develop This Skill

Here are some ways that you can develop your technical machining skills:

  • Take online courses or classes that teach basic machining skills.
  • Demo and observe the machines in your factory.
  • Volunteer to learn new machine processes or practices.

7. Lean Manufacturing

Increasing your value and developing your skill sets also requires you to take a step back and evaluate the big picture processes in place at your factory. This helps you think more strategically about the processes you use, and can help you find opportunities to make them smoother and more efficient. Learning about lean manufacturing can help you find and eliminate areas of waste in your factory without sacrificing product quality.

Check out our definitive guide to lean manufacturing to learn more about the process and discover how lean principles can help your business reduce waste and grow effectively.

Ways To Develop This Skill

Here are some ways that you can develop your lean manufacturing skills:

  • Read the definitive guide to lean manufacturing linked above.
  • Try and identify areas of waste in your current job.
  • Learn about inventory and production systems that make lean manufacturing easier.

8. Creative Product Design

Many people might think that working in manufacturing means that there isn’t any room for creativity or design skills, but, in fact, the opposite is true. Creativity in the manufacturing workplace is important, especially when it comes to designing new products. The ability to take an idea and turn it into a viable product is highly valuable in a factory setting, and opens up many new opportunities for employees.

Ways To Develop This Skill

Here are some ways that you can develop your creative and design skills:

  • Explore different CAD software classes.
  • Collaborate with different team members on new products.
  • Think about ways to solve problems in a new way.

What Is the Manufacturing Skills Gap? 

While it’s clear to see why having manufacturing skills is important, there are often barriers to learning and developing these skills. These barriers may include things like time, resources, or support from the company. This creates what is known as the manufacturing skills gap.

The manufacturing skills gap occurs when there is a need for highly-skilled manufacturing workers at a plant, but not enough candidates with those skills to fill the positions. This can leave businesses struggling to find the talent required to run effectively and grow the business.

Causes of the Skills Gap

It’s hard to come up with a single reason why a skills gap occurs. While many might attribute the problem to the increase in technology and machines, the skills outlined above make it clear that increased digital technology actually opens up more highly skilled positions. While there isn’t a clear reason for the skills gap, there are a few contributing factors that need to be addressed.

Baby Boomers Are Retiring

As the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, many businesses are discovering that vast portions of their workforce depend on those skilled positions. Many baby boomers spent 10+ years in their positions and have advanced manufacturing skills and knowledge. Replacing those employees with someone without the same amount of experience leaves big gaps in skill sets and tribal knowledge.

Lack of Necessary Technology Knowledge Base

As machine technology advances, there’s an increased need for workers with highly specialized skill sets to manage, program, and engineer those machines. Employers are looking for workers who know about IoT, robotics, industry 4.0, and machine monitoring — but often struggle to find employees with those skill sets. This makes it hard to fill those positions, as many people with high levels of experience don’t have the time or money needed to build new specialized technology skill sets.

Lack of Workers in the Blue Collar Workforce

One of the most unfortunate truths of today is the stigma against blue collar workers in the manufacturing industry. Many people think that a blue collar employee is less educated, and is therefore deserving of less pay than a white collar worker. This means that more people are avoiding blue collar careers and instead want to go after white collar jobs, which they believe will give them more money, job security, and career mobility. The result is a shortage in key blue collar workers, which makes it hard to hire and develop manufacturing talent.

Possible Solutions for the Manufacturing Skills Gap

While there are many reasons behind the manufacturing skills gap, there is a definitive need to find solutions that can help close the gap and give you more control over your entry-level manufacturing positions. Let’s discuss a few of the possible solutions for the manufacturing skills gap.

Take a Course or Get Training on a Manufacturing Skill

In order to develop skill sets, you need the right amount of training to increase your knowledge and understanding of key modern manufacturing skills. Taking an online course or seeking out different training opportunities is a great way to take control of your own skills and open up more employment opportunities for yourself.

Provide Growth Opportunities for Current Workers

It’s important to develop the skill sets of your current employees. Not only does it increase employee satisfaction and make your workplace more attractive to new talent, but it also helps build technical skills in the employees with the experience you want for new positions. This helps create opportunities for upward growth and advancement in the company.

Attend MFG Day and Inspire New Workers

Manufacturing day occurs every year on the first day of October. It gives manufacturing companies a chance to hold open houses and invite the public in to see what happens within the factory. This also opens up opportunities to highlight career opportunities in your business and correct the negative assumptions young workers might have about manufacturing careers. Participating in these open houses can help you find new talent and fill job openings.

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