Manufacturing is about people.
-Roger Usmar, Sector Development Manager, Competenz
A manufacturing career that spans ‘shop floor to senior management’ in operations, competitive (‘lean’) manufacturing and human resources has helped Roger Usmar understand the challenges manufacturers face. It’s also convinced him that investing strategically in training to build a skilled and adaptable workforce is one of the keys to managing these challenges.
Now Sector Development Manager at manufacturing industry training organisation Competenz, Roger shares his thoughts on how to build training into an effective workforce development strategy.
“Attracting good people, then building the skills they need in a competitive manufacturing environment, is a challenge – and it’s one New Zealand manufacturers need to take seriously,” says Roger who joined Competenz in October.
“In my thirty-plus years in manufacturing with Fonterra, Kiwi Dairy and Woolworths, I’ve seen the difference a good workforce development strategy makes – and the vital part training plays in supporting the company strategy.
“Manufacturing is about people. You can have the best technology, but without engaged employees with strong technical and commercial skills, who can solve problems, adapt and look for continuous opportunities to improve, you won’t get the best from this technology.”
Roger recommends manufacturing companies take a structured approach to training, whatever their size. He shares his recommendations:
1. Put training on your board agenda. “Your people’s skills and competencies can be a critical risk or major asset in executing your strategy. So I’d like to see people development discussed around every board table in the country, every month. Directors should scrutinise training plans and budgets the way they do investments in new plant.”
2. Look ahead. “Skills take time to build, so companies need to be constantly looking ahead. When you produce your strategic business plan, map out the skills you need to support it. Both plans need to be long-term. Look ahead at least three to five years.”
3. Treat training as an investment. “The benefits of training, including greater productivity, quality and employee engagement, boost your company’s bottom line. Support that investment, challenge the return you’re getting, and take a long-term view.”
4. Structure training programmes appropriately. “Most learning takes place on-the-job, not on ‘courses’. So make sure your training caters to workplace learning. And create a pathway of learning, with a realistic starting point, that helps learners master skills over time. This is particularly important in manufacturing, where many employees have limited formal education.”
5. Invest in leadership and management skills. “Investing in leadership development, management disciplines like competitive manufacturing and project management, and ‘soft skills’ like communication will help you get the best from your technical training.”
6. Treat adult education as a specialty. “Training your workforce is an example of adult education – and that’s a specialist area. So pick your training team to suit and invest in their skills too. Then make sure your people managers understand how to support employees as they learn.”
7. Develop training programmes to suit people of all literacy levels. “Design your training programmes to cater to employees – both overseas- and New Zealand-born – with limited literacy. And remember that many immigrants have valuable skills and experience. So make it easy for them to share their skills, even if their English is limited.”
8. Recognise prior learning and use it actively. “A well designed training system recognises the skills an employee has already gained, including through on-the-job learning. Then it goes a step further by using those skills. Don’t just file CVs when you’ve finished hiring. Find opportunities to use those skills.”
Competenz is the industry training organisation for New Zealand’s manufacturing and engineering industries. Every year Competenz works with 20,000 learners in 3,500 companies around New Zealand to build skills, careers and businesses.