December 15, 2020

With the first vaccine doses on the way, there’s renewed hope that the upheaval brought on by the Coronavirus may finally be drawing to a close. While the acute crisis might be waning, things may not completely return to normal soon—or ever. That means everyone is likely to experience a period of adjustment.  Manufacturers are taking stock of their businesses in the final days of this tumultuous year, and one thing is certain—the lockdowns and shifts to virtual work have had a dramatic (and dramatically different) impact on everyone.

While some businesses continue to just hold on, others have seen sales remain steady this year, and still others have managed to achieve impressive growth as part of the “new normal”. From a workforce standpoint, the region is expected to see an ongoing recovery; the Department of Labor and Industry expects a net gain of nearly 12,000 industrial jobs through 2028.

In fact, a recent survey DVIRC conducted among small and mid-sized manufacturers (SMMs) in the Philadelphia region indicates that while 60% of the firms in our service area saw revenue fall in 2020, more than half (54%) project growth in 2021, and 77% are planning to expand their workforce in the next 6-12 months. Clearly, the need for skilled workers will grow right along with those expansions.

This movement of workers into the manufacturing sector—coupled with the changes brought on by the need for safe, in-person work while also accommodating remote employees—presents challenges and opportunities for everyone.

Makeda Brown, Founder/Principal Consultant & Executive Coach at PVR Coaching & Consulting, and a DVIRC strategic partner, points out that workers at home and those in the office share a need for effective support. Without the necessary skills development, skilled employees may find it all too easy to leave for more favorable positions. “Companies do not want to be back on their heels reeling from the pandemic,” she says. “Planning and preparing will ensure their long-term competitiveness.”

“Never before has it been more important for growing companies to pursue supervisor and manager development,” says J.R. McGee, founder and CEO of X-Stream Leadership, and DVIRC strategic partner. “Managers and workers are stretched beyond belief and need to take on new responsibilities.” Before leaders can guide their teams under trying conditions, they will need new skills.

Donna Butchko, President of Leadership Systems, Inc. and DVIRC strategic partner, points out that even though the world changed in 2020, people did not. In unprecedented times like this, we ask people to do more than ever before. Teaching new skills and reinforcing learned skills will help to make that growth possible.

Manufacturers that grew through the pandemic, Butchko says, typically follow one of two paths; they recruit workers from outside their organizations or promote them from within. Both options carry their own training opportunities and challenges. New hires, on the one hand, need to understand standard operating procedures, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of their ability to bring fresh eyes and new ideas.

“Either way, they need skills to be successful in your world,” Butchko says. “It will require additional resources to ensure their success, and training is the best way to help new hires fill the role you’ve asked them to fill.”

Butchko says manufacturers just holding their own this year still encounter challenges from a training standpoint. “Even if it’s just a matter of having people work remotely, that entails a long list of coaching issues,” she says. “How do we make sure people are communicating if we are never together? How do supervisors help their charges find a work/home life balance? And perhaps most important, how do we ensure we are being considerate and compassionate without forgetting that the work has to get done?”

Even for those struggling to stay in business, there is still a significant need for employee development. In times of crisis, maintaining employee engagement is critical. “When businesses are struggling, that’s when you need everything you can get from your people and processes. Training can help you address that disparity.”

Butchko says during times of employee churn, it’s not uncommon for employers to worry that employees will take their new skills and leave for greener pastures.

“What if you don’t train them and they stay?” she asks. “Can you afford not to train people? Can you afford to have people not know what they’re doing? The school of hard knocks is just too expensive right now, and there’s a good chance you don’t have the kind of time required for workers to learn that way.”

Although there is some flexibility regarding various training models, the shift has been to essentially an all-virtual delivery. The good news, according to Butchko, is that most of the bugs have been worked out. “I have a lot of confidence in the training we’re providing now,” she says. “We’ve had to redesign everything for a virtual world, but that redesign is largely done.”

One change was optimizing for the ways people learn. Butchko says it’s not just a matter of moving the lessons to an eight-hour Zoom session; trainers must consider the distractions attendees face at home, and the particular challenges of interacting without being physically together.

“We’ve made a lot of refinements,” she says. “At this point virtually every slide and every activity has changed.

Regardless of how your sales were impacted in 2020, there is a vital need to upscale employee skills in terms of people management and process improvement; DVIRC has the ability to offer training and consulting in each of these areas. To learn more about our training offerings, visit us online to see which of our standard and customized programs—from supervisor training and management development to Lean/Six Sigma and more—are right for the opportunities that await in 2021.