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Skills Development

Skills development is the process of improving the competencies of your workforce. It's an investment in human capabilities for the long and short-term - with huge benefits to productivity, engagement, and quality.

What is skills development?

Skills development is the process of improving the competencies of your workforce. It’s accomplished using a mix of strategies and tools, with the goal of:

  • Improved efficiency.
  • Less downtime.
  • Highly skilled, confident employees.
  • Better retention (less employee turnover).
  • Better product quality.
  • The list of benefits goes on and on…

 Think of it as a general investment in the “know how” of the frontline - boosting the skills of each individual employee in order to make them better at their jobs.

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Skills development for the frontline.

The skills and capabilities of the frontline directly translate to performance . In turn, this impacts the efficiency and quality of  operations in  manufacturing, assembly, healthcare, field service - the list goes on and on.

It’s essential that we remember that our frontline workforce is made up of individual people with individual needs, and a unique set of abilities. Training and skills development is most impactful when we take this fact into account and embrace solutions that are as dynamic as the people they’re built for.

It’s time to re-imagine the way that we invest in our frontline workforce. 


Reskilling vs upskilling

The industrial  skills gap is growing rapidly as the Baby Boomer generation retires and turnover rates soar to over 40%. This is a major challenge for frontline  leaders, as they struggle to find the qualified workers they need to keep their operations running smoothly.

The good news? The solution often lies in frontline teams already working within your organization, and is a matter of investing in upskilling and reskilling initiatives to expand and transfer their capabilities.


Upskilling: Developing new or existing skills that are relevant to a person’s current role in order to either broaden or deepen their area of expertise. 

Reskilling: Gaining new skills in order to transition to a new role within the organization. 


Both of these strategies  help improve your manufacturing workforce’s ability to perform their daily work - but they also make a huge impact on the flexibility of your operations. A highly skilled workforce is one that can react and adapt well to change.



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Delivering the relevant training.

Knowing WHY manufacturers should be investing in Skills Development software for their frontline workforce, it’s equally important to discuss HOW to best go about the process. Not all methodologies are created equal.

For decades, manufacturers have relied on combinations of training and skills development tools composed mostly of:

1. Obsolete paper and PDF work instructions and standard operating procedures (SOPs).

When SOPs and work instructions are delivered in a static format like paper or PDF, it places a time and effort burden on the frontline workforce - they must locate them, interpret them, and trust that the information is correct.

Managers and content creators must physically replace these materials any time a process changes or improves. Failure to do so can result in expensive human errors and deviations in processes. Ultimately, it results in a frontline that can’t trust their standards and who is more likely to simply “do the best they can.”

Not only are old fashioned standards and work instructions difficult to use, locate, and update - they’re also a less effective way to learn and retain knowledge. 

2. Ineffective classroom training.

It’s impossible to completely remove classroom training, onboarding, and preboarding from the skills development process,  and there is no particular need to do so. There are some elements of the onboarding process  that need to be delivered this way. But it’s a proven fact that the practical elements of working on the frontline are best taught with a learn-by-doing methodology that emphasizes on-the-job training, as it:

  • Boosts knowledge retention

  • Reduces time-to-serve by up to 50%

  • Delivers training that’s easy for the older workforce, and familiar for the younger generation.


3. Hard-to-use skills management solutions in programs like Microsoft Excel.

Many companies store the crucial data about employee skills development in a static format like Microsoft Excel. This means that as teams reskill and upskill, profiles must be manually updated one-by-one. It also means that it’s hard to access a dynamic overview of exactly who has which skills - which can make shift planning and filling skills gaps exceptionally difficult.

So if you think using Excel will make it simple for you…….it won’t.


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Leveraging better learning content.

Skills development efforts are greatly enhanced when frontline teams are given opportunities to use tools and training methodologies that are dynamic, always up-to-date, and easy to use. 


Digital standards and work instructions.

Digital standards and work instructions allow frontline teams to access any essential process information needed for the task at hand. Ideally, they’re structured in such a way that they facilitate the correct actions while enabling a user to work at their own pace while referencing the materials on the go.

These tools are particularly advantageous for the frontline industries because of their ability to be accessed anywhere on mobile devices - this means users can simply scan a QR code and be given step-by-step information about their work, that’s always up to date.


Digital SOPs improve: 

  1. Consistency and quality control.
  2. Productivity and performance.
  3. Safety and compliance.
  4. Knowledge transfer.
  5. Training and onboarding.

On-the-Job Training.

On-the-job training uses methods that involve hands-on experience. That is, the employee learns by physically interacting with the subject rather than memorizing it with abstract concepts from a book. 

As digital standards and work instructions make independent on-the-job learning a reality,  task completion becomes faster and more accurate. Going through step-by-step training at their own pace helps employees get the needed support and answers in real time, retain information easier, upgrade their personal and professional development and feel more confident in their work. 


  1. Easy-to-implement. Digital and mobile-first tools simplify the process of delivering learning content and training materials in the production environment.
  2. Cost and time-efficient. Learning-while-doing reduces the need for training staff and also reduces time-to-serve for new recruits.
  3. Increased productivity. It’s a proven fact that hands-on experience improves productivity for individuals performing any kind of technical task.
  4. Increased retention. A better training experience improves morale at the frontline and also increases buy-in. A more engaged workforce is going to improve long-term retention.


Digital skills management boosts skills development.

Building learning content directly into the flow of work allows frontline teams to learn-by-doing. This means that training content - be it digital work instructions, SOPs, short videos, or otherwise - are linked directly to the task being performed , and available instantly on a digital platform.

Not only does this improve task execution, but it delivers the relevant learning in a way that can be tied directly to whichever skills need improvement.

As employees work through this learning content, they can have the relevant skills updated in a dynamic digital Skills Portfolio - an overview of the skills of an individual employee that updates in real-time as they upskill, reskill, and prove their knowledge with skills assessments and certifications.

Modern skills management and development tools deliver digital content and allow training managers to have a holistic view of their teams’ abilities that is always up to date. When frontline teams are learning, it’s being done on-the-job.

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Validating skills development.

It’s critical to continuously measure and validate your skills development efforts.

Employee skills assessments are performance-checks that allow an employee to prove their knowledge and competence for a given task.

In manufacturing, making sure that people are capable of performing complex and potentially dangerous tasks like operating machinery is absolutely crucial. Skills assessments are a way for managers and supervisors to check and certify that their employees have the expertise to perform their jobs safely and accurately, every time.

Skills assessments are also a way to help drive skills development from a bottom-up perspective.

Know the difference!



These are performance checks initiated by employees in order to prove and validate their competency on a given task.


Skills Assessments:

These are in-person performance checks performed on the shop floor and validated by a manager or supervisor.


Both kinds of skills assessments:

  1. Improve skills development and validate competence. 
  2. Help identify and close skills gaps on individual and team level.
  3. Easily test learner understanding on-the-job.
  4. Provide a framework for engagement and self-efficacy.
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Long-term vs short-term competency development.

But don’t forget - skills development isn’t only to improve your numbers. It’s also the key to developing meaningful engagement across your frontline workforce. 

Manufacturers use both long-term and short-term competency development (in different ways) to empower frontline teams with a skills-based approach.


Short Term.


Problem solving with skills development.

Manufacturers use techniques like loss deployment, machine sensor data, and gemba walks to zero in on the different causes of waste in their production workflows. 

When a company discovers that the problem stems from a lack of competency (skills and engagement) they can intervene and deliver the relevant training and close the skills gap.


Delivering training materials.

In this use case - using employee development to solve problems on the shop floor - it's extremely beneficial to be able to deliver relevant training materials directly to employees.

If teams have access to a digital skills development platform, they can deliver learning content to an employee, in the palm of their hand on the shop floor.



Competency development is also a holistic strategy that empowers manufacturers to support a well-rounded, engaged workforce that works in sync with a culture of operational excellence. 

Digital tools like skills portfolios take this concept a step further - they allow each employee to track their competencies and career path over time. They're able to see where they need development, which skills and certifications they're lacking, and follow their progress as they learn and grow.

But it’s also incredibly important to also facilitate these meaningful conversations in person with tools such as employee development plans. These are simple, collaborative tools to visualize individual employee growth within their roles in the organization. It helps to set a clear growth path for your employee that boosts productivity and quality of the delivered results.

Use an employee development plan to define a series of goals and start essential conversations about skills development throughout an employee’s time at your company, to create meaning that contributes to increased  work engagement and job satisfaction.


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