Doing Something About The Skills Gap - Part 1

May 18, 2020 8:26 am

“The only thing worse than not training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”- Henry Ford

I am not breaking any news in stating that for a number of years and continuing through the spring of 2020, particularly in fields where technical skills are required, (machining & metalworking, welding, plumbing, ect.), a skills gap has existed for many reasons including retirements, and a lack of bench strength. Additionally, as we prepare to hopefully go back to work after the Covid-19 shutdowns in the spring of 2020. A skills gap will still exist.

How the skills gap is hurting companies?
Productivity loss: 45%
Higher employee turnover: 40%
Lower morale: 39%
Lower quality work: 37%
Inability to grow business: 29%
Revenue loss: 26%
Source: CareerBuilder

Troubling feedback from a 2019 SHRM report on the Global Skills Shortage.
83% of respondents reported difficulties recruiting qualified candidates.
75% of those having difficulty recruiting believe there is a skills gap among applicants that ranged from technical too soft skills.
51% of respondents indicated in their opinion the education system had done or was doing little to nothing to address the skills gap issue.

Data is unquestionably important! Better data allows better decision making. But as a lifelong problem-solver, stopping at the identification of a problem has always fallen a bit short in my opinion. We have a problem, and something needs to be done about it.

Should you train, hire, or buy the skills you need? A corporate dilemma that has been in place as long as there has been business. The best answer may be “all” with structure. It is entirely possible that if you invest in building and maintaining a world-class workforce, others may try to hire them and may even be successful in poaching a few. But spending my career working in and helping clients who work in technical fields has confirmed that developing skills is not only the right thing for the organization, but at least as importantly it is the right thing to do for the employee. As Lewis Gizzard said, “If you ain’t the lead dog, the view never changes”. Having people needing to poach your talent rather than the other way around confirms your teams’ place. Ultimately the choice is yours but as for me, I will develop the skills my team needs.

As a society, we have faced and resolved challenges relating to skills gaps in the past. So, in an effort to stay clear of reinventing the wheel. Let us look at what has worked in the past.

Dating back at least 3,000 years workplace mentoring is a “learning partnership between employees. For purposes of sharing workplace information,” and practices. In the right workplace culture, mentoring can be extremely effective. However, in a culture that emphasizes individual performance over that of the team, protecting tribal knowledge may trump the sharing that effective mentoring requires.

Another good option is workplace apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with classroom instruction to prepare workers for highly-skilled technical careers. Workers benefit from apprenticeships by receiving a skills-based education that prepares them for good-paying jobs. Apprenticeship programs help employers recruit, build, and retain a highly-skilled workforce. As with mentoring in the right workplace culture, apprenticeship programs can be extremely effective. Apprenticeships require, among other things, qualified instructors capable of planning and executing a relevant training plan that meets the needs of participants, and employers alike. This means that these instructors must understand the work requirements themselves – you cannot give what you do not possess.

Based on the millions of dollars given to technical schools annually to develop and provide apprenticeship training, and the opinion of so many in respondents to the SHRM report that the education system had done or was doing little to nothing to address the skills gap issue, a better apprenticeship model needs to be developed.

Training Within the Industry (TWI)

What do I recommend?

When people contact me about addressing the skills gap, my first recommendation is often a model I have more than a decade of experience with: Training Within Industry, sometimes referred to as TWI. Simply put, this model is evidence-based. Historically and in the current workplace. From my own teams to clients representing in a variety of environments (Shop floor, Construction, and Administrative).

What is TWI?

TWI is a model developed prior to the United States entering the second world war. It was utilized to maximize wartime production utilizing workers new to vital production jobs as well as improving processes to meet the demand of not only the United States but her allies.

TWI then?

By October 1, 1945, over one million people had been trained in one or more J-Programs. Of more than 600 companies in which TWI was deployed between 1941-1945:

86% Increased production levels by at least 25%

100% reduced training time by 25% or more

88% reduced labor-hours reduced by over 25%

Is TWI still relevant?

As of 2020, TWI is in use in more than 30 countries. With practitioners continuing to report double-digit improvements to productivity, my clients are currently utilizing a holistic TWI approach to among other things. Reduce training time by as much as 50%, improve training effectiveness, and reduce employee turnover.

TWI focuses on “The 5 NEEDS OF A LEADER” and developing a program that utilizes TWI “J” PROGRAMS to meet your organization or team’s specific needs.

There are 8 TWI J-Programs:

Job Relations (JR): Teaches foundational skills of leadership.

Job Methods (JM): Teaches the skill of leading daily and larger-scale improvement.

Job Instruction (JI): Teaches the skill of instructing the one best way.

Job Safety (JS): Teaches a method focused on creating a total safety culture (TSC).

Problem Solving (PS): Teaches a problem-solving method based on scientific thinking.

Discussion Leading (DL): Teaches a method that can improve the participation in and results of any discussion.

Staff Development (SD): Teaches a change leadership method that focuses on Leadership, Strategy, Teamwork, and Coaching.

Program Development (PD): Teaches those with training responsibilities a method that can be utilized to address an organization or teams specific needs through training.

Recommendations for approaching TWI:

Training Within Industry (TWI) training, certification, and down streaming is meant to be highly experiential. Learning as much as possible about the model helps assure training programs, and plans will be more capable of meeting your organization or team’s specific needs.

While J-Program training sessions are designed to be delivered Onsite, online sessions can also be very experiential. I recommend staying clear of trainers who rely on “death by PowerPoint” or recommend a single J-Program approach.


For more information about Training Within Industry, please visit

Author: Dave Swenson president of Multilateral Improvement

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