The “supervisor problem”: the inability of subject matter experts to adequately transfer knowledge to a younger set of leaders before the baby boomer generation retires.

This overarching issue provides the foundation for many of the current problems and difficulties occurring in American manufacturing today. The act of transferring knowledge requires a company to intentionally separate itself from the day-to-day challenges and firmly invest in the future. Success in the U.S. is predicated on growth, and having the discipline to invest time in PEOPLE today will exponentially increase growth potential, tomorrow. Procedures, training documents, and work instructions are not fun, sexy, or easy – but essential.

As a corollary, industrial and manufacturing companies must follow and act on the research regarding motivation / incentive. The “carrots and sticks” mentality simply does not work. People are no longer motivated by money alone, but rather by appreciation, autonomy, mastery, and purpose …

In addition, exiting leaders must be willing to embrace technology as the “here-to-stay” vehicle to complete this transfer. Such information cannot solely be passed on through discussions or hands-on training alone- it must be recorded, standardized, and saved. This approach will combat the ever-increasing average turnover of employees, as people currently change jobs a minimum of 5-7 times in their careers.

Finally, HR hiring practices MUST follow suit. Fortune 100 companies have recognized this problem early and re-designed their hiring funnel to accommodate. They are attracting dozens of young, talented engineering / technical students and enroll them into rotational leadership development programs, rather than promoting from the hourly workforce. These multi-disciplined programs invest the time in the future leaders of their company while REQUIRING that they spend at least 1 year “supervising” a production line. This practice throws them into the fire and forces intensive learning – truly a brilliant way to design the system around solving a problem.

These young, motivated students will achieve their goals and objectives because they refuse to fail (even if it means working 80 hour weeks on salary); companies simply cannot get that same degree of hunger and motivation out of a tenured employee. These programs make money a non-issue up front, and then rely on those intrinsic motivators to achieve results.

Small, midsize, and even large-scale manufacturers must follow suit and do those 3 things: Redefine hiring strategies, Embrace technology, and Invest in their People. Only then will they be equipped to solve the “supervisor problem” and bring Manufacturing back to America.

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