Predictions, Prognostications, and Preparedness

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I never make New Year’s Resolutions.  Never, ever.  I feel that the world changes so much from year to year that just keeping up is enough reform for me.   Over the holidays, however, I do enjoy discussions with friends and family of what the new year might bring.  Technology developments are always on the “in-the-future” list, as well as world politics and weather patterns. Eventually, the kids will grow up, the car will wear out, and the pets will end up in doggie heaven (except you, Ranger, bad dog!).

The global economy is a tough call each year.  I watch for trends (and am old enough to have seen a few) so I know that one good (or bad) year, does not the future make.  But I am pleased to note that the American economy is picking up and manufacturing is helping lead the way.  Manufacturers, economists, policy makers, and educators still have work to do, mind you, but generally things are looking up for America’s small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMM).

Manufacturing Data & Trends 

industry statistics

workforce statistics

The manufacturing workforce is also looking good. Currently, there is more employment, better wages, more hours worked and higher productivity than last year at this time.   So, here’s our new year’s dilemma…how are we going to find enough talent to keep manufacturing growing?  The “skills gap” has been eating away at manufacturing for a least a decade, so what will we do in the near-term, and in the long-term, future to ensure continued growth?

A new report by Bersin[1] recommends that manufacturers build a supply chain of skills, because talent gaps take years to fill.  The new report documents examples from firms that reorganize their training functions into “capability development” functions and approach their skills acquisition and development as multi-year programs.  Josh Bersin, the report’s author, believes that firms should be able to catalogue and report on future internal skills gaps (by virtue of talent management planning) and then start building their talent supply chains.  If you don’t make talent predictions and plan, you’ll lose out on hiring and retaining the skilled individuals you’ll need to keep growing. The “future” is going to be a very competitive skills marketplace.

Here at NIST MEP, we also believe that SMMs must do more than hang out a virtual shingle and wait for job applicants to show up.  That’s why we are working to develop and deploy SMARTalent, a cloud-based software tool for talent management.  The focus for this year will be to pilot test with a group of MEP centers starting January 2014 with the intent to open it to others late in 2014.

SMARTalent will be used for job profiling, want ads, workforce diagnostics, competency and skill identification, work-flow planning, lay-off aversion and succession planning, and will automate functions for these activities. Like all technology, it does not replace the creative thinking and analysis necessary for high-quality workforce development. Rather, it will enable manufacturers to eliminate task redundancies and streamline processes through the use of data analytics. 

For more information about SMARTalent, visit the NIST MEP webpage, or call Stacey Jarrett Wagner at 301-975-4850.


[1] Bersin, Josh. Predictions for 2014. Bersin by Deloitte. December 2013.

About Author

Stacey Wagner

Stacey Jarrett Wagner manages Workforce Systems Development at NIST MEP, which includes intergrating workforce development as a business strategy in MEP's Next Generation Strategies initiative. A frequent speaker and writer, she has more than 20 years of experience in workforce development, conducting research and providing strategic thinking and technical assistance on workforce development issues.

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