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Is technology killing people skills?

people skills

May 26, 2016

Much has been written about the skills shortage in manufacturing and it’s a regular topic of conversation with my clients.  One particular challenge which I hear about a lot – but isn’t often addressed in public debate – is the inability of managers to transfer their knowledge in order to create a culture of continuous improvement. They may be technically brilliant, but lack the people skills and emotional intelligence to connect with others, lead and inspire. The success of Lean depends on many things, but the ability to live and breathe the strategy, empower and inspire teams, as well as communicate with and coach colleagues, is fundamental.

Yet in the PwC Global Innovation Survey 2013, 45% of CEOs of industrial manufacturing businesses said they found ‘establishing an innovative culture internally’ challenging.  Even more (56%) agreed that ‘finding and retaining the best talent to make innovation happen’ was a major issue. Another aspect of the problem is the demographic changes hitting the manufacturing sector; according to Industry Week the ‘silver tsunami, or mass retirement, of aging workers threatens to wash away corporate knowledge’.

These older workers need to be replaced by a new generation of mentors and coaches, and time is of the essence.  As the baby boomers retire over the next few years, their shoes must be filled by a workforce who not only possess the required technical skills, but excel at the softer people skills which will make them inspiring leaders.

And this is perhaps the heart of the problem: the impact of ever-accelerating technological advances, particularly in manufacturing, has taken our focus away from people skills. To support new technologies and innovation, manufacturers have to attract people with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills. But students who excel in these areas are not necessarily natural communicators.

There is an urgent need to address this deficiency, both within the workplace but also in our schools and universities. WMG at Warwick University is one such institution helping manufacturers address the challenge through its Innovation Business Leadership Programme, designed to meet the needs of fast-moving SMEs that rely on innovation for competitive advantage. Sue Parr, business development director at WMG, says, “These companies recognise that enhancing their leadership and management skills will help them to grow the business further, retain their managers, and ultimately bring in more staff. Delegates have an opportunity to network with peers, develop their skills, and think differently and more strategically about their business.”

Without these vital people skills among your team, fulfilling your Lean goals will be an uphill battle. However, the good news is that this is a skills shortage which can be addressed, and relatively quickly. Whether you need external support or have identified internal training gaps, we can help. 

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