COVID-19 Emphasizes the Need for New Skills Among Current Workers



skills.jpgThe COVID-19 outbreak forced companies to evaluate and transform their traditional ways of doing business nearly overnight. Leaders and team members were required to quickly adapt to this new normal to make safety the top priority.

As companies worked to acclimate to this new environment, many came to realize their abilities to reskill or upskill workers were not sufficient to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape. This was felt across nearly all industries, while millions were laid off and essential sectors struggled to find enough skilled workers to keep up with soaring levels of demand.

Currently, more than 7.2 million jobs remain unfilled in the United States due to a lack of skilled workers available, with 87% of executives experiencing gaps in their workforce. This talent shortage is especially prevalent in the manufacturing sector, with a growing skills gap made larger by the struggle to find young workers to replace a retiring generation. Combined with the changes brought on by the pandemic, manufacturers need flexible, wide-ranging talent now more than ever.

The recent increase in working from home also has highlighted the lack of digital skills among manufacturers, with only 29% possessing the advanced skills necessary to adapt to new technologies and 35% carrying limited or no digital skills at all. This was supported by a recent PwC study, which reported 80% of CEOs worry about the availability of key skills, with 91% saying soft skills need to be strengthened alongside digital skills. Many CEOs see the lack of digital skills, even among their own leadership team, as a significant business threat.

Investing in training for workers is proven to drive greater business results and increase employee loyalty to the organization. It also better equips businesses and individuals for the future. Within manufacturing, for example, it is most important to reskill or upskill workers with jobs that require routine, repetitive tasks – such as those that will soon be replaced by automation. This ensures workers are learning diverse, applicable skills to fill other more valuable positions down the line. With many facilities transformed by COVID-19, some workers may return to find their jobs no longer exist. In these situations, reskilling or upskilling will be essential to find a more meaningful and secure position for workers, helping both the company and the individual in the process.

Clearly the coronavirus pandemic has taught us that collaboration and public-private partnerships, when working together, can accomplish great things. Collaboration allowed for the creation of new supply chains for much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) almost instantly. These same relationships can help ease the burden for retraining workers.

In June 2019, DENSO opened its third upskilling facility at its North American headquarters in Michigan to teach workers about high-speed video cameras, advanced robotics, IoT technologies and more. Detroit-based LIFT (Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow) recently received $1 million in funding through the NIST CARES Act to provide reskilling training to 250 workers in the areas of CNC machine operations, industrial technology maintenance, welding and robotics. Sweden has created a consortium of private companies and public sector organizations to rapidly train furloughed workers due to COVID-19 and equip them to fill critical support roles in healthcare and education. This has freed up existing trained staff, doctors, nurses and teachers to focus on the issues of patient care and modifying the education system to keep kids learning.

COVID-19 required businesses to rapidly reskill and train workers to adapt and survive, but a massive skills gap existed in the manufacturing industry prior to the pandemic and will continue to exist until leaders put training plans in place to address these gaps and enhance the skills of their workers. Team members with varied skillsets and the ability to learn quickly will continue to push their businesses forward. Leaders with effective reskilling plans and adaptable thinking will keep their companies thriving and resilient to whatever challenges may lie ahead.

To learn more about The Center’s upcoming online and in-person training opportunities, click here. Learn how The Center has responded to COVID-19 for the safety of all visitors here.


McCarter_R-web.jpgRebekah McCarter, Lead Supplier Scout
Having spent more than 20 years with the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, Rebekah views her fundamental responsibility as head cheerleader and advocate on behalf of Michigan’s manufacturing community. Officially, Rebekah is the Lead Supplier Scout for Michigan, part of a national program that effectively identifies domestic suppliers that meet the specifications of OEMs and other U.S. manufacturers, with a special focus on connecting Michigan companies with other Michigan companies. If you are looking to mitigate risk in your supply chain, transition to more local sourcing of raw materials or augment your minority suppliers, The Center can help. 

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at


Categories: Data & Trends, workforce