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Are COVID Manufacturing Shutdowns a Learning and Development Opportunity in Disguise?

July 22, 2020 - minute read

According to a recent EPAY Systems survey of manufacturers, upskilling and cross-training workers is a top industry priority as companies emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. More than 41% of respondents identified upskilling and reskilling employees as a high priority, while 55% indicated that cross-training was on their immediate to-do list. As painful as ongoing factory shutdowns may be, it seems they may also offer manufacturers a much-needed opportunity to engage in workforce learning and development.

For some, it’s a bid to retain skilled, experienced laborers. For others, new physical distancing protocols in plants have left employees working fewer hours. Either way, that idle time can be spent more valuably on training, provided the employer is equipped to conduct its learning program online.   

Manufacturing’s Pressing Need for Learning and Development

Workforce training and upskilling has been a noted industry issue for some time, but it’s even more critical to manufacturers in the era of COVID-19. There are several contributing factors.  

For one thing, the industry has been struggling with a skills gap that predates the pandemic. In large part, this is driven in part by the mass retirement of Baby Boomers, currently the heart of the factory workforce. Before COVID-19, more than one-quarter of the industry’s most highly-skilled workers were projected to retire over the next decade. Now, that number may be even greater, as older workers elect to retire early in order to protect their health.  

For another, health and safety training will always be a priority for this high-risk industry. Of course, some short-term training needs will involve enforcing new physical distancing protocols imposed by the pandemic.

In addition, according to EPAY’s survey, nearly 40% of manufacturers will be examining automation solutions in the next three to six months, and another 14% will be investigating artificial intelligence. Any changes to equipment and processes will require an efficient, comprehensive learning and development process to ensure a safe, productive workplace.

In fact, change has become the watchword for manufacturers working to rebuild in the wake of COVID-19. It’s likely that any new approach employers may take will require some reengineering their workforce. Any way you look at it, big changes are coming to the factory floor, and employers need to ensure their workers are ready.

Online Learning Management Systems on the Rise

While many employers started to move to online learning and development programs over the last few years, this migration has been greatly accelerated by the pandemic. Obviously, online learning management programs allow workers to train individually and remotely, as opposed to face-to-face in a classroom setting. 

Fortunately, research indicates that digital learning can be highly-effective. For example, studies show that workers retain more information through online learning as opposed to in group environments, primarily because they have more control over how—and how quickly—they receive and process information. 

Not surprisingly, according to a recent LinkedIn Learning survey of nearly 900 learning and development professionals, many organizations are already shifting their training budgets to online training solutions due to the pandemic. And because in-person learning is so expensive, companies now have the flexibility to invest in quality online learning management systems.

Another Upside: Learning and Development May Improve Retention and Hiring

Investing in learning and development will not only help manufacturers position for the future. One of the bonus benefits of upskilling is that it may improve retention, allowing manufacturers to hold onto their experienced workers. According to a survey on workplace learning, a full 94% of respondents said they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development. 

That benefit may extend to hiring, too. It’s been well documented that fewer young workers are choosing manufacturing as a career. The promise of a robust learning and development program—especially if paired with state-of-the-art technology like automation or AI—may be just what tech-driven Gen Zers need to hear to give the industry a second look.   

Evaluating Learning Management Systems

Effective learning management systems (LMS) allow employers to create and manage learning modules and assessments unique to their company and needs. They allow them to easily incorporate a blended mix of media—the key to optimized learning. This also allows employers to control and monitor their learning and development programs’ performance, right down to tracking the progress of individual working. And of course, they make it easy for employees to access content remotely and on-demand, for anytime, anywhere learning.

EPAY’s learning management system offers all of these capabilities. Furthermore, in addition to creating and uploading your own training offerings in a range of media, it allows you to purchase timesaving pre-made courses—particularly useful when it comes to compliance training. It’s part of our complete HCM platform, which is designed specifically for manufacturers and other employers with an hourly workforce.

Filed Under: Manufacturing Learning and Development COVID-19