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The dilemma around workforce training persists today, as it has for decades. Same challenge, different situation. “If we train them, they’ll leave for a better job at another company, maybe even our competitor’s!” The other side of the dilemma: “If we don’t train them, they’ll stay here!” (What good is that?)

Sadly, individuals who hold either (or both) of those views may not have considered the fact that an untrained workforce is dangerous, costly, and inexcusable. Especially when the skill sets that improve safety, quality, and reliability are lacking.

In the fall of 2020, the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Task Force on Work of the Future issued an important research brief. Titled, “Skills Training for Adults,” it explored what the Task Force termed “the highly fragmented U.S. workforce-training system” and comparable training programs in Europe. Unfortunately, the document didn’t seem to attract much attention in our industrial sectors.

A survey leading up to that MIT report had been conducted in January 2020. The author, Paul Osterman, stated that the research was about how adults obtain their job skills. While training is not the only answer to the post-COVID-pandemic era, he pointed out that it’s important “because many low-wage workers lack the skills needed to move into better jobs; middle-aged workers who are displaced will need assistance finding new work using new skills; and creative skill-training programs can work with firms to help them improve their performance and upgrade their employment practices.”

According to Osterman, unlike the European system (especially in Germany and Sweden), “the United States does not have a training system, if what is meant by the term ‘system’ is a well-articulated set of programs or opportunities that fit together.” As he put it, “What the United States does have is a diverse, loosely connected set of opportunities.”

Summing up those opportunities, Osterman noted that for all the criticism regarding the limited scope of the U.S. system, there are positives, namely the multiple venues of training that are available and the flexible access to those venues. “These features, he wrote, “distinguish the American system from more rigid national models and are a source of strength.”

I’ll discuss U.S. workforce-training venues in my next column for The RAM Review, and include a short, real-world example of a collaborative model in which I’ve personally been involved. Stay tuned!TRR

Bob Williamson is a long-time contributor to the people-side of the world-class-maintenance and manufacturing body of knowledge across dozens of industry types. His background in maintenance, machine and tool design, and teaching has positioned his work with over 500 companies and plants, facilities, and equipment-oriented organizations. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or bwilliamson@theramreview.com.

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, workforce development, training and qualification, skills development