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The Benefits of Upskilling for Manufacturing Employees

Helping workers enhance or develop new skills is a way to improve their productivity, engagement, and satisfaction. It holds benefits for manufacturing companies as well. 

March 19, 2024

According to Gallup, 71% of workers who received upskilling opportunities say their overall satisfaction with their jobs increased. Additionally, 65% say their standard of living has increased and 75% have gone on to advance in their careers.

Imagine that kind of impact on the workers in your company, and how increased satisfaction and skill level could translate not just into increased engagement but also business success. Upskilling, or training workers on develop or enhance their current skill sets, should be a priority for manufacturing companies in a time when employee retention is more important than ever and new technologies are being adopted at ever-increasing rates.

But manufacturing companies simply can’t leave upskilling up to their employees. It has to be a deliberate initiative that includes a comprehensive upskilling plan that will meet business goals and address skills gaps strategically.

To learn more about their experiences with upskilling, we surveyed 600 frontline manufacturing workers for our second annual "Voice of the Essential Manufacturing Worker" report. Based on their insights, we’ve created this guide explaining how and why you should build an efficient and impactful upskilling program today.

The State of Upskilling in Manufacturing

The work world is constantly changing; responsibilities and knowledge must also evolve to keep pace with the industry, especially as manufacturing companies adopt new technology. But who is going to use and manage that new technology, new business units, or initiatives that are created and advanced by innovation or market changes? It's not effective to continue hiring new talent with applicable skill sets once a job role changes. Instead, invest in upskilling opportunities.

Here's a look at the state of upskilling in manufacturing today, according to last year’s and this year's "Voice of the Essential Manufacturing Worker:"

  • In our 2024 report, 70% of respondents say their company is prioritizing upskilling. This is a drop from the 2023 report, where 80% agreed with this statement. 
  • 72% of respondents from small companies say their company makes upskilling a priority—another drop from 83% in 2023. 
  • The number of respondents from larger companies who say their company prioritizes upskilling dropped from 76% last year to 60% this year.
  • 66% would trade their current job for one that offered more upskilling, but longer hours.
  • 43% plan to leave their job in the next 12 months.

These falling numbers emphasize the need for a refocus on upskilling, which can improve engagement, productivity, work satisfaction, and retention.

The Benefits of Upskilling for Your Company and Employees

There are a number of benefits to upskilling your workers. Most notably, it achieves two major wins with one initiative: improving your business overall while positioning you for competitive success and boosting staff engagement and morale. Here’s a look at a few more ways upskilling can positively impact your business:

  • Minimize your skills gaps: Upskilling allows you to expand your skillsets to cover skills gaps in your workforce.
  • Increase agility and adaptability: By expanding the skills of their workers, manufacturing companies empower their teams with increased agility, adaptability, and a readiness to handle changes or pivots.
  • Increase productivity and revenue: A highly skilled workforce raises operational excellence overall, contributing to growth of the bottom line.
  • Stay ahead of the technology and innovation curves: Because upskilled workers have already adapted to various new technologies, they are well equipped to handle implementations and help your business stay ahead of the curve.
  • Reduce the costs of hiring new talent: Instead of hiring new talent each time a job role changes, save costs by simply upskilling those already in your organization.
  • Boost customer satisfaction: Increased productivity and operational excellence can improve customer experiences if the results are higher-quality work, delivered on time.
  • Improve engagement and morale: Workers feel more satisfied if they're at a workplace where they have opportunities to grow and expand their skills, rather than remain stagnant in one limited role.
  • Attract skilled talent: Having upskilling programs in place can be a draw for new talent seeking opportunities and a clear path for growth.
  • Improve retention: Upskilling can help improve retention and reduce turnover, as more satisfied and engaged employees will stick around.
  • Provide opportunities for career advancementUpskilling not only provides opportunities for worker career advancement but also creates a pipeline of qualified leaders for the future. 

Three Steps to Creating a Great Upskilling Program

Creating a great upskilling program takes time and effort but can pay off in numerous ways. Here are three steps you can take to get started today.

1. Identify your goals and needs, and ask for input

The first step in creating or growing an upskilling program is to identify what areas of training you want to invest in. Is there a new technology you're adopting company-wide that requires new skills? Are job roles changing or being reclassified? Are you digitizing or automating parts of your process and need individuals to oversee those new processes? This means knowing your business needs through meticulous tracking, or asking your employees what skills they're lacking to do their job effectively. Offering broad access to a learning management system (LMS) may be beneficial, but it may not be precise enough to target the skills you truly want to develop in the employees you’re focusing on.

2. Choose channels or methods for upskilling

Next, determine how you'll deliver your upskilling initiatives. Respondents said what they see most at their companies is on-site or on-the-job training, which allows for immediate practical application of new skills within the workday setting, lowering the learning curve. Because it’s hands-on training, it’s also more active and engaging for the worker, helping to build rapport with their supervisor or trainer.

Respondents also say their organizations provide upskilling through access to an online training platform. While less hands-on, immediate, and tailored to the individual, there are still many benefits to providing access to an LMS. Certification or compliance courses and exams can be completed through the LMS. Workers can also access courses in hard and soft skills to improve their current role or prepare them for a new role in the future.

In addition to the channels through which they're upskilling, respondents say that their organizations cover tuition for courses and training and give paid time off to take these training courses—an investment that will be worth the return.

3. Manage and measure your upskilling efforts

You can roll out all the upskilling initiatives you want, but unless they teach the skills that best serve your business, make your workers more confident and productive, and positively impact your bottom line, you're wasting time and money. Before you launch your upskilling initiatives, determine your objectives for what you want to accomplish—for example, X number of people take AI prompt training by a certain date so they can manage new AI initiatives. Then create a set of key performance indicators that you'll use to track the impacts of this training. Don't just look at completion rates, but review productivity metrics to get a clear picture of the overall benefits and value.

Track your upskilling efforts through a digital platform like your ERP. This will let you see who's been involved in upskilling initiatives and the impacts they made, so you can quantify your efforts. This will help you to know what to stop or improve, as well as your return on investment. Finally, gather feedback from those who participated to learn about their experience, and use this feedback to improve and amend your efforts in the future.

Advancing Your Workforce with Upskilling Today

With today’s speed of innovation and the need to attract and keep a skilled workforce, manufacturing companies who invest in fostering upskilling programs for their workers will find a happy and engaged workforce, a more productive company, and a competitive advantage in their industry.

Download the full report for more in-depth insights and data to better support your workforce and adapt to the evolving manufacturing landscape.