The rising levels of complexity in the manufacturing sector as a response to rising economic complexity, globalization, technological innovation, constantly evolving business landscape, and ever-increasing consumer demands are seeing the sector becoming more innovative and demand-oriented. To respond to the challenges thrown up by these tectonic shifts, the manufacturing industry has had to pay close attention to their employee training and development needs. After all, only a skilled and trained workforce can contribute productively towards an organization’s bottom line.
A report from the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) states that "Organizations that place a stronger emphasis on learning were also more likely to point to higher market performance, highlighting the bottom-line benefit. Conversely, reducing learning resources during tough economic times was associated with poor market performance". 
Training emerges as an effective solution to shore up the skills gap in the manufacturing sector. According to a study conducted by Deloitte Consulting LLP , The Manufacturing Institute and Oracle, almost 32% of manufacturing companies face a moderate to heavy skill shortage across all skill sets. And as we see more advanced technology being incorporated in the manufacturing industry, these training needs of an organization be it for compliance, safety, product, good manufacturing practices etc. are only going to increase more.
While this sector does recognize the importance of training initiatives, here are a couple of challenges plaguing the industry.
Given the skills gap that needs to be bridged and upskilling that needs to be done on a regular basis owing to the constantly shifting economic environment and the sheer number of people that need to be trained, training costs in such organizations can become very expensive. It has often been observed that while manufacturing companies need multi-skilled employees, most of the workforce is trained to complete a single job function alone.
Technologies like robotics and automation become an industry mainstay but most workers in the manufacturing sector are not technologically proficient. Today, we are witnessing the rise of Industry 4.0 and technologies such as cloud computing and IoT are being adopted in the manufacturing sector at warp speed. However, along with focusing on new technology adoption, manufacturing companies have to be equally focused on training the people who will use these technologies—their workforce.
Traditionally, the manufacturing sector has been heavily inclined towards classroom teaching. Classroom training not only demands the heavy involvement of trainers and supervisors but also means employees to spend a considerable period of times attending these training programs. This also means downtime which impacts the company bottom line. Along with this are the logistical costs of bringing down employees from dispersed locations to the central training location which consequently adds to the training costs.
The attrition rates in the manufacturing sector are also high given that experienced employees are in high demand. This means new employees keep joining the companies in different locations. The training needs of these new hires have to be addressed on an immediate basis and organizations end up spending more to address the training needs of the new hires on a continuous basis, especially if these trainings are classroom driven.
Manufacturing companies are also under constant pressure to innovate more and release new products or update and upgrade their existing products. This need demands that employees be on top of industry best practices and the changing market dynamics become enablers of innovation. Those organizations that do not invest in regular trainings stand the risk of falling into the ‘frog in the well’ syndrome—you believe that your world is perfect while the world has moved on to another dimension altogether outside of the well. Regular training programs act as the fuel that helps employees identify how they can improve and innovate to create better products that can improve an organizations product value.
It becomes clear that employee training is a critical enabler of the overall growth of an organization. However, it is also clear that manufacturing companies are feeling the burn associated with classroom training—heavy expenses and employee downtime. While it might seem that training then has to become an either/or option, in reality, thanks to technology training programs have received the much-needed facelift…enter blended learning.
The objectives of training can be broken down into 4 major parts:
Blended learning can be used effectively to impart cost-effective and high-quality training in this sector. Blended learning offers to combine eLearning and classroom training to yield the best training results.
In the manufacturing sector, knowledge and awareness training are 2 areas that lend themselves well to eLearning. Whether it is employee onboarding, compliance, and regulatory training, product training etc. eLearning ensures that the employee training can be completed efficiently without leading to any employee downtime. These training modules also lend themselves to personalization, can be delivered in a device-agnostic manner, enable anywhere- anytime learning and reduce the overall training costs.
Skill and expertise building training are great models for classroom training as they need more one-on-one interactions. These training programs can also be conducted easily in the classroom format since these do not usually involve a large number of participants.
Amalgamating eLearning with classroom learning is an efficient way to improve the training RoI of manufacturing companies by enabling high-quality and cost-effective employee training programs. By introducing eLearning, manufacturing companies will not only affect time-saving but will be able to improve the effectiveness of learning programs by making them more accessible, measurable, and personalized. With eLearning, it also becomes easier to monitor the effectiveness of the training programs as well as employee progress and tailor changes to address the growing knowledge needs of the employees proactively.
It is an established fact that the manufacturing industry has to lean in heavily on training their workforce in order to remain competitive. This shift has been made consciously in large manufacturing companies such as Arcelor Mittal and Toyota, for example. The main reason for these manufacturing giants to get serious about their training initiatives was to remain competitive and proactively bridge the yawning skills gap.
Clearly, manufacturing organizations have to look at workforce training as a strategic priority to not only bridge the skills gap but to ensure that their workforce performs to their optimal capacity. Only a well-trained workforce can fuel the organization's ability to innovate and grow. And the solution for the same lies simply in blended learning.