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As workforce shrinks, cross-training, new skills are vital

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As we incorporate more technological advances into our work lives, the way we work continues to change.

Even the most entry-level jobs require skills that years ago would be reserved for higher level professionals.

For example, the modern job duties and requirements for an administrative assistant vary greatly compared to the job requirements from 50 years ago. Many of the requirements for these jobs today more closely resemble those of computer programmers from decades ago.

Most administrative jobs today require varying degrees of computer prowess and familiarity with programs ranging from word processing, database management, scheduling and budgeting.

Over time, these jobs changed because of technology and changes in the workforce as a whole.

It’s not limited to secretarial work. All of us, in our jobs, probably have seen changes in what is required to make us successful.

Nowhere is this more evident than in manufacturing.


It used to be that the only things needed for a job in a factory were a strong back and a willingness to work hard.

While the willingness to work hard is evident in most any job now, it is no longer a foregone conclusion that you also need that strong back to be successful.

It is becoming more likely that a new person entering the manufacturing workplace will require advanced skills once designated solely for machine designers and programmers.


Most people entering careers in manufacturing begin as production technicians, jobs that require some skills and knowledge prior to starting.

They require knowledge or skills in math, measurements, workplace safety, the computer, fabrication, tools, communication and problem solving.

This can be quite difficult for people without technical experience. In many cases, a high school education alone, even with some technical training, may not be enough to obtain a manufacturing job.

Luckily, higher education is stepping up by offering programs that provide the required skills needed to be successful. These can be done in as little as four weeks or no longer than six months.


These programs are skill-based and very affordable.

Either through short micro-credentials or longer certificate programs, there are options to help employees or potential new hires get up to speed in order to prosper in today’s manufacturing environment.

After one is hired, there is continuous learning. In the past, people hired as electricians only worked with electrical components while mechanics only worked with mechanical issues.

Things are changing.


In the next 10 years, the United States will see a decrease in the number of available workers in many fields – including manufacturing.

This affords tremendous opportunities for people who wish to increase their skills and grow in their employment.

It doesn’t necessarily mean getting a four-year degree, but can be as simple as obtaining micro-credentials and other certificates.

They can stack progressively more comprehensive certificates and in many cases move into programs toward earning a college degree.


Companies are cross-training employees in areas outside their normal work environment. For example, mechanics are receiving increased exposure to electrical training while electricians are receiving more training in mechanical issues.

This is not only because of the increasing complexity of modern manufacturing. As companies struggle with a declining workforce, cross-training allows them to fill complex staffing needs.

For the human resource professional, this means that planning soon must be done to identify areas for staff training and improvement.


Meeting future needs of the workforce can be done by the individual and company.

Individuals can look at their goals and develop a plan to have the skills for employment in today’s manufacturers. These can be done in as little as a few weeks and will improve chances of success.

Companies should develop a comprehensive plan for staff development. This can include a combination of outside training, mentoring and apprenticeships.

It is vital also to look at company strengths as well as obstacles you face now and will face in the coming months and years.

Tom Bux is the director of the Center for Leadership and Workforce Development (workforce.lccc.edu) at Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville. He can be reached at tbux@lccc.edu.

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