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Manufacturing Workforce Development

The talent shortage and skills gap has reached a critical level for manufacturing companies. Attracting and retaining a quality workforce was the top two business challenges in a recent National Association of Manufacturers Outlook Survey, cited by 72% of respondents. Even before the pandemic, manufacturers found it difficult to attract and retain qualified workers. Driving factors include an aging workforce and resulting retirements, changing skill requirements driven by advanced technology, a lack of awareness among students and parents of the career opportunities available in manufacturing, and company talent management processes that have not adapted to the new realities of the labor market. In this environment, manufacturers need to strengthen and optimize every aspect of their talent management.

Successful companies get superior business results by doing two things exceptionally well:

  • They build effective programs to select, develop and retain talent.
  • They engage and invest in all employees — from top leadership to the shop floor — by giving them tools for solving problems and taking ownership of their roles.

The MEP National NetworkTM offers an extensive range of manufacturing workforce development services and resources that address every stage of the employee lifecycle. Services include talent assessment and planning, attraction and recruitment, training and development for production workers as well as leadership, employee engagement and retention, and more broadly creating an effective organizational culture to become an employer of choice.

talent management process chart

While each MEP Center’s manufacturing workforce development programs – which include services offered through partnerships with other workforce and training organizations – are tailored to their specific region, the Network offers support in each of the areas described below.

Assessment and Planning

Improving organizational performance is a top priority for manufacturers and nearly impossible to do without a properly trained workforce. The MEP National Network offers a holistic approach to help manufacturers overcome workforce challenges through a systematic process. This process generally begins with a formal or informal assessment to understand your goals, challenges and gaps.

Attraction and Recruitment

Your company’s ability to fill open positions is critical to its long-term success as a reliable supplier to your customers. MEP Centers can support your hiring needs with their knowledge of available workforce development and training programs for manufacturers.

Examples of ways MEP Centers can help include:

  • Developing a hiring plan to attract the suitable candidates
  • Creating succinct job postings using the job description to market the position to the right people
  • Organizing and executing employee recruitment activities that reach a wide variety of candidates including underrepresented populations like women and minorities, veterans, displaced workers, etc
  • Identifying apprenticeship opportunities, developing customized training and coordinating with local, state and national training partners
  • Leveraging relationships with staffing agencies and other partners to build a candidate pool
  • Working as an extension of your HR department to assist with recruitment best practices
  • Building the manufacturing talent pipeline by creating awareness of manufacturing career opportunities through events such as Manufacturing Day.

Training and Development

MEP Centers can help with training and skills development for manufacturing workers and supervisors, from creating a structured onboarding process for new employees to developing skills among your current employees. We will assess your needs and organizational goals and help develop a program that is tailored specific to your company.

By focusing on manufacturing workforce training and skills development from the shop floor to your leadership, your employees will increase their knowledge base and perform their job better – often leading to increased job satisfaction and retention.

MEP Centers along with local education and economic development partners, offer training in basic workplace skills such as:

  • Effective communication
  • Working in teams and problem solving
  • Technical skills like reading a blueprint or geometric dimensioning and tolerancing
  • Lean and process improvement methodologies to help create a high-performance culture

MEP Centers and partners can also help provide supervisors and managers with essential leadership skills, such as:

  • Communicating for results
  • Developing a culture of engagement
  • Motivating others
  • Delegating for empowerment
  • Managing conflict

Many MEP Centers offer Training within Industry (TWI), a methodology that quickly and consistently trains employees who are new to the world of manufacturing. At its core, this training – targeted at production supervisors and team leaders – provides a set of tools to effectively teach new staff the right way to perform their job. Companies that implement TWI have seen the time to develop new hires into productive workers cut in half, along with reductions in scrap and rework.

Engagement and Retention

Engaging and retaining current staff is critical to maximize productivity and reduce turnover. Hiring and developing new staff is an investment, and engaging staff maximizes that investment. MEP Centers can help in a variety of areas that impact retention, including employee engagement surveys, compensation and recognition systems and assistance to develop career pathways, build a culture of teamwork and create a learning organization.

Becoming an Employer of Choice

Creating a positive workplace culture that successfully attracts and retains talent takes work, and does not just occur on its own. Working with MEP Centers to be effective in all stages of talent management from assessment and planning to engagement and retention enables manufacturers to develop a reputation as an employer of choice in their region.

Job Quality Toolkit

The challenge of attracting and retaining a diverse, productive, engaged workforce has grown. Workers seek quality jobs, and companies that prioritize job quality become employers of choice. Job quality is not just about the job; it is a combination of key drivers that are important to each worker’s overall employment experience. Pay and benefits matter, and so do many other factors like workplace safety and health, a voice, scheduling predictability, skills building, and advancement. Together, these distinguish an employer of choice from the rest. 

The Job Quality Toolkit, rooted in the Baldrige Excellence Framework, is an actionable tool that organizations can use to improve the quality of the jobs they offer. Identifying and improving the drivers most valued by workers can significantly increase their satisfaction and engagement and, in turn, benefit the organization’s ability to compete for talent and achieve success in the marketplace.

SCMEP was able to come in and teach our master trainers who are now training all of the shop floor associates. The workshop is very effective and I often hear comments such as, 'This is what we have always been missing.' The associates trained learn the methods very thoroughly and the workshop was taught in a way that made them very comfortable. 

—Paul Flaherty, Quality Manager, JTEKT Corporation
Read the Success Story

Heroes of American Manufacturing: Ace Metal Crafts Company
Heroes of American Manufacturing: Ace Metal Crafts Company
Ace Metal Crafts Company, a client of IMEC (the MEP Center in Illinois and part of the MEP National Network) was launched in 1960 by 16 sheet metal workers who invented techniques that are now standards in sanitary stainless steel fabrication. Today, their in-depth fabrication knowledge resides in their processes and people, many with 30+ years of experience, working alongside the next generation of engineers, welders, finishers/polishers and fabricators to make Ace one of the best fabricators of stainless steel components. IMEC was first contacted by Ace Metal Crafts Company to assist with their employee training program. This valuable relationship has grown to include work with safety training, manuals, policies, a sustainability program and the selection of a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.



Manufacturing Reports

MEP National Network

Many manufacturers are struggling to find and retain employees. It’s time to approach employee attraction and retention differently. Find out how in The Manufacturers’ Guide to Finding and Retaining Talent.

Credential Engine

The credential landscape is vast—perhaps larger than many imagined—and it continues to grow. In response to business, worker, and student demands for modern career preparation options, education and training providers have been creating opportunities, many on-line, many shorter in duration than traditional programs, and often less expensive. The goal of this report is to increase awareness.

Articles on Workforce Development by MEP National Network Experts 

For more information or assistance with your workforce, please contact your local MEP Center.

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For General Information

  • MEP Headquarters
    (301) 975-5020
    100 Bureau Drive, M/S 4800
    Gaithersburg, MD 20899-4800
Created June 4, 2020, Updated April 12, 2024