The numbers appear dire: more than 3.4 million positions in the manufacturing industry will need to be filled by 2025, according to Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute. Yet 2 million of these positions are projected to remain open due to a lack of qualified candidates with the right technical skills. But what if this talent crisis isn’t as difficult to solve as it first seems?

Some of my clients have succeeded by focusing less narrowly on technical skills and taking a broader view of candidates’ leadership and problem solving ability. What they’ve found is that candidates can learn technical skills on the job, but it’s more difficult to teach problem solving, leadership ability and other soft skills. These soft skills are more predictive of success in senior level manufacturing jobs than engineering qualifications. And frankly, the technology is now changing so rapidly that any hard skills a candidate brings can become obsolete quickly.

Still not sold on hiring non-traditional candidates? Here are three ways that hiring a cross-functional leader can positively impact your business:

A diverse professional background brings new perspective.

We recently worked with a company that had many employees who had been there for 20 to 30 years. On the one hand, this is a positive sign that the company has a great culture and people really enjoy working there. But on the other hand, this lengthy tenure meant that many employees were stuck in the same mindset. To remain competitive in today’s economy, the company needed a fresh take on existing processes and systems. We helped the company choose a new hire who had worked in multiple industries, bringing a creative approach to problem solving that can yield significant results.

Cross-functional leaders keep teams from becoming siloed.

A common problem I see at manufacturing firms is a tendency for different departments and even teams within departments to become siloed. When teams struggle to communicate, it’s difficult to motivate these teams to work towards common goals. This is where a leader who has worked across multiple functions is key. These candidates have a deep understanding of a company’s overall strategy, not just one small piece of the puzzle. They understand the different goals and motivations of the people reporting to them and working alongside them. This allows them to act as “change agents”, facilitating cohesive communication across teams and departments.

Professional experience is transferable across industries.

You’d be surprised just how transferable many professional skills and experiences can be. At the management level, experience with a certain stage of growth or company transition is often more important than an understanding of the product or technical skills. We recently worked with a small, family-owned business that decided to take a more aggressive position in the market. We helped them bring in an outside leader who had limited industry familiarity, but who had guided a business in another industry through a similar transition. His experience with efficiency improvements, process driving, and operational leadership was relevant and transferable to the company.

Ten years ago, you would have never seen a plant manager from a chemicals manufacturer moving into automotive. These days this type of non-traditional path is becoming more and more common. The needs of the industry have evolved, and candidates from a wide range of backgrounds are now able to succeed in these roles.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.