• Montage

A staff development strategy for the manufacturing industry

The process of “buddying up” experienced employees with new recruits is not a new concept, in fact the traditional apprenticeship system is predicated on an experienced tradesperson mentoring and coaching an apprentice throughout their apprenticeship period. The challenge that most companies have is trying to “formalise” the “informal” nature of the knowledge being transferred within their organisations.

Mentoring has long been used in manufacturing and engineering to transfer trade skills to apprentices throughout the four-year duration of an apprenticeship. This process of knowledge and skills transfer is as follows:

  • The first year an apprentice typically works alongside a tradesperson for a year. During this time the tradesperson will teach the young apprentice how to perform basic trade skills such as welding or cutting materials to length.
  • During the second year the apprentice is then given small jobs to start and complete by themself with some guidance from a nearby tradesperson.
  • 3rd and 4th year apprentices start to work as part of a team of tradespeople and/or autonomously on projects.

“In my experience this process of mentoring in Manufacturing and Engineering organisations was quite limited with individuals who were not undertaking an apprenticeship.” Director of Outsource Institute, Carl Spruce.

Mentoring can be used in many ways in manufacturing and engineering to level the skill playing field of the workshop.  Many organisations allow workers to work endlessly in a very skilled environment such as CNC programing, Specialised Welding, Detailed Pressing Operations without transferring these skills to others in the organisation. The risks of allowing this to occur are:  that holiday periods and sick leave impact on production and quality; abrupt departures of key workers result in a rushed or failed recruitment process and wage increases requested by key tradespeople.  The transference of critical skills reduces the risk to the organisation.

The culture of most Manufacturing and Engineering organisations is very “technocratic” and “autocratic”.  Skills are king and the people with the most skills are the leaders (generally).

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Education and Government funding

“The size of our economy can grow as we add more people to it, and as we work for longer, but the holy grail of economic growth is productivity growth – doing more with less. Productivity growth is the key driver of per capita living standards over time.” Paul Krugman

Queensland’s productivity performance over the last decade has left a lot to be desired. Queensland labour productivity growth averaged 1.7% during the 1990s, but only averaged 1.1% during the first decade of the 2000s.

At present, Queensland is starting to see a cyclical improvement in productivity growth as the recent significant tranche of resources investment starts to pay dividends in the form of higher production and exports. These projections include a view that Queensland labour productivity growth will lift to average 1.8% per annum over the next five years.

An improved rate of productivity growth often goes hand in hand with skills development.

Having the skills to harness new technologies and techniques will be an important enabler of productivity for governments and businesses, with digital disruption (digital change) a key challenge for many sectors. This message is particularly true for manufacturing and engineering organisations. Manufacturing and engineering demands people have specialised skills such as welding, fitting and turning, toolmaking, electronics and electrical assembly, fibre glassing, Plastics injection moulding. The list of different materials and the skills required to fabricate products in engineering and manufacturing are almost endless so maintaining high levels of skills and adopting future skills quickly is paramount to the success of any engineering and manufacturing company.

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