Manufacturers, Are You Ready For This?

By UT CIS Workforce Consultant, Tim Waldo / Originally posted on Tim Waldo's LinkedIn Blog

How quickly things change. These days, we can certainly add…how often things change. The common belief is that change is difficult and that virtually nobody likes it. However, we are more than familiar with the fact that change is inevitable. For many, these truisms lead to a love/hate relationship with the whole idea of change. Today, there is a fast moving transformation in the world of manufacturing. Processes, materials, markets, supply chains, technology…everything is changing. Some of the most demanding changes are those dealing with the people involved in manufacturing. This presents manufacturers with a twofold challenge – finding the right people with the right attitudes, aptitudes and skills; while at the same time building a culture that is engaging and innovative.

This may be one of the most complex changes that makers face. As would be expected, today’s workers are unlike the generations that came before them. For many of the younger workers, the concepts of work and career simply do not mean what they did years ago. What is done for a living seems to be guided more by personal aspirations. There is a perceived need for a different level of engagement in work that leads to deeper personal growth and fulfillment. Workers place greater value on opportunities to learn and to gain a wider range of experiences. This is why manufacturers not only have to make quality products and provide outstanding customer service; they also have to create a workplace environment that can live up to the demands of this new mindset.

Teams that seek to create an environment that promotes learning and fosters personal development alongside organizational development are sometimes referred to as learning organizations. They understand that this means the organization will change. Because to learn is to change. When people add to their levels of experience, knowledge and wisdom, it changes them. When people grow in this manner, they tend to change the groups they are part of – families, friends, communities and their workplaces. The types of changes they might bring to the workplace, and the changes that will be necessary to keep them on the team, will modify the organization’s approach to management and leadership. It will alter certain ideas and influence the team’s ability to adapt to the avalanche of change that has become the norm.

There is plenty of research by numerous authors teaching us that a learning organization will be different from the typical command and control type organization. For example, leaders of learning organizations understand the need to allow learners time for reflection (the time to ask questions and make observations during and after a learning experience). They understand that important learning opportunities can come through failures, and because they know this, they encourage experimentation. They also know that learning is a social experience, so they facilitate team learning.

Manufacturers who make the transition to learning organizations will see people differently. The company identity changes from something like, “We make the world’s best widgets” to something more along the lines of, “We develop world class talent, and those talented people make the world’s best widgets.” This takes a change of perspective. This is a type of directional change that embraces what scholars have implied when they tell us that the ability to learn and adapt (instead of just accumulating knowledge) is where the real competitive advantage is. This perspective values the proposition that learning opportunities are more than just occasional training initiatives. Learning is a never-ending process that focuses on continuous improvement for the individual and for the organization. True learning changes things. One of the key challenges manufacturers will face is their readiness and willingness to foster change within their organization.  

Tags Workforce Development