Smart Solutions Series Recap: Tackle the Labor Shortage with Cross Training & Skills Acceleration



increase-skills.jpgIn our most recent Smart Solutions Series webinar, we explored how manufacturers can solve challenges related to labor and skills gaps in their workforce through cross training and skills acceleration. Here are a few of the key topics explored:

  • What is the difference between cross training and skills acceleration? Cross training involves training multiple workers to complete the same job or task, ensuring critical tasks are always completed, even with less workers available. For example, to move materials and get orders ready for shipment, it’s essential that manufacturers have workers who know how to operate a forklift. Having multiple workers trained in forklift operation effectively guarantees there will always be someone available to complete these tasks. This same cross training can be done across the entire enterprise to provide back-up support options by maximizing the effectiveness of your current workforce. In a similar way, accelerating workers’ skills helps to fill gaps left by highly skilled people. With so many Baby Boomers retiring, and taking their industry knowledge with them, it can be difficult for manufacturers to fill these roles with workers possessing the same skills or knowledge. Proactively prioritizing skills acceleration gives workers the skills needed to move forward in their careers and contribute more within the facility.
  • Why is it important to have management buy-in? Top-down support is essential in any business initiative. Leaders and managers need to be the ones driving change and supporting workers’ training. Otherwise, it may seem as if management does not care or is not involved in workers’ development, which can lead to a decrease in engagement and retention. This requires an ongoing commitment from leadership to demonstrate that training is a priority.
  • How can we get our workers to understand why we are driving this new training? Communication is critical. When you begin implementing training plans, workers will want to know why. Clearly explain how the training will benefit both the individuals, as it gives them more opportunities for career growth, and the company, as it improves efficiency and effectiveness. Workers will want to know what’s in it for them and how they will be affected.
  • How do I implement a training program? Begin by identifying and prioritizing critical tasks that need to be completed daily – for example, manufacturing and shipping products. Ask yourself, do we have a way to train workers on these processes already? Is there standard work? If not, start there. Create standard work instructions to train new or existing workers on these critical processes, using technologies like Tulip or LightGuide Systems to make this process even easier. Tulip utilizes short video clips and images to walk workers through the steps of a process, while LightGuide Systems projects light onto a work area to guide workers through each step in the process. This work standardization essentially removes room for error or variation, as well as eliminates the need for manual training from another worker. Once these critical processes have been standardized with training programs in place, start looking at who should be trained in different skills/areas and why. Sometimes it will make sense to have workers in similar roles cross trained to fill gaps, while other times it will be more beneficial to bring in a worker from a different department to apply a fresh set of eyes in the area and enable better collaboration across the company.
  • Where is the best place to start my training? Dig deep into the challenges of your business to find the biggest opportunities for improvement. Focusing on one area at a time prevents you from taking on too much at once while enabling the greatest return on investment. For example, if your company has high rates of absenteeism, cross training for those roles may be the best place to start. To help determine your biggest pain points, The Center’s experts can help. We’re partnering with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and Automation Alley to assess Michigan manufacturers’ readiness to adopt technology. Through free operational assessments, we help companies understand their options and opportunities for improvement and growth, as well as can help manage improvement projects.

The current industry climate may have obstacles, but there also is a lot of opportunity. Manufacturers will need to be creative and think outside of the box to proactively tackle these issues and be able to grow in this dynamic environment. For additional guidance in these initiatives, The Center can help. Contact us at to learn how we can assist your company. For more insight on how to tackle the labor shortage, view all of our previous Smart Solutions Series webinar recordings here.  


Headley_J-web-2021.jpgJamie Headley, Director of Business Development
Jamie Headley is Director of Sales at The Center’s Plymouth office. In her role, Jamie oversees client engagements and ensures manufacturers throughout Michigan receive the services and support they need. Jamie is a seasoned operations professional with expertise in change management, strategic planning, leadership, process improvement, lean implementations, cost containment and operational excellence. 



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: Leadership/Culture, workforce