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  February 1st, 2021 | Written by

Why Upskilling in Manufacturing Is Key to Bridging the Skills Gap

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  • As we emerge into the fated “new normal,” training must reevaluate any slated reskilling and upskilling efforts.
  • Technology will play a drastically larger role in manufacturing in 2021.
  • Are your workers well-braced for technology’s upcoming tidal wave?

Before COVID-19, manufacturers understood the importance of continuously training their workforce.

They planned to spend a collective $26.2 billion in 2020 to help employees improve their existing skills, and around three-quarters said they were either launching or expanding workforce training efforts. The pandemic put many of those investments on hold — but it also rearranged their priorities. As we emerge into the fated “new normal,” training must reevaluate any slated reskilling and upskilling efforts.

So what’s the difference between reskilling and upskilling? Reskilling moves someone laterally between different jobs so they’re competent at multiple skills. On the other hand, upskilling moves someone vertically through a process of gaining skill and specialization around the job they have currently or the career path they’re following. It’s the difference between training an employee broadly versus deeply.

Both approaches are imperative coming out of the pandemic. But with many changes happening at once in manufacturing, upskilling, in particular, can help employees adapt so they can continue on their pathways successfully, ensure efficiency, and achieve operational excellence.

The Post-Pandemic Manufacturing Workforce

The pandemic proved that it’s time to commit to digital transformation and ensure internet-connected and data-driven technologies steer all aspects of production and links within a supply chain.

Technology will play a drastically larger role in manufacturing in 2021 and beyond as companies strive to make themselves more dynamic, efficient, and resilient. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has clearly arrived in the form of artificial intelligence, robotics, and analytics, and it’s up to the post-pandemic workforce to use these transformative technologies effectively.

At the same time, it will be up to manufacturers to prepare them. As production becomes more technical, it creates a skills gap in manufacturing — one that’s far too wide to fix with recruiting alone. For workers to make the most of technologies such as IoT or augmented reality, they will need to build on their existing skills and acquire new ones.

Manufacturers that apply upskilling and reskilling efforts intelligently— and succeed at both — can expect their workers to make a bigger impact in less time. Alternately, factories that update technology without updating their workforce are only courting failure. And for those few manufacturers not widely embracing new technologies, a skilled workforce will be crucial for surviving in the post-pandemic economy.

The tools garner all the attention, but it’s the users who really matter. Manufacturers that subscribe to this maxim will start planning their upskilling initiatives now and make them a top priority throughout 2021 and beyond.

3 Ways to Build the Workforce of the Future

The sooner workers adapt to the new normal, the better. Unfortunately, the human mind isn’t great at retaining tons of new information at once: We forget up to half of what we learn 20 minutes after learning it, and another half by a day later (a phenomenon known as the forgetting curve). But if only one-fourth of reskilling and upskilling efforts stick, the workforce will lag behind.

Repetition has been shown to help with information retention and memory recall, but it’s not always clear how to circle back through key concepts without the exercise becoming redundant or inefficient. Use these strategies in your upskilling initiatives instead:

1. Create video content. In-person training requires careful scheduling and could distract participants for hours. (And of course, questions remain about when it will be feasible again.) Delivering those same training modules via video helps workers access them whenever it’s convenient and consume information in smaller chunks. Plus, it’s especially helpful for those who prefer to learn using a video medium or find it easier to follow.

2. Leverage virtual reality. If video provides education, virtual reality provides experience. It gives users a way to walk through new processes and practice new skills in a hands-on environment as opposed to, say, watching or reading about processes. When used alongside the video, VR allows manufacturers to deliver training whenever, wherever, and to whoever needs it. It secures results, too: Users retain 75% of information using VR training compared to just 5% for lecture-style learning.

3. Install a training platform. Manufacturers often think of training as something they perform occasionally. For it to make an impact, however, they should start thinking of it as a resource to provide constantly.

With this in mind, create a digital channel where training content (videos, VR programs, guides, etc.) is housed and managed so workers can access this content on-demand and managers can check their progress. But don’t stop there — supplement the channel with quizzes, activities, and contests to keep workers immersed in the material.

With the right commitment to upskilling and reskilling, manufacturers can turn a workforce built for the past into one that’s fine-tuned for the future. The key will be to get started as soon as possible to ensure the information sticks. Are your workers well-braced for technology’s upcoming tidal wave?


Daniel Sztutwojner is chief customer officer and co-founder of Beekeeper, the single point of contact for your frontline workforce. Beekeeper’s mobile platform brings communications and tools into one place to improve agility, productivity, and safety. Daniel is passionate about helping businesses operate more efficiently.