Three Ways to Beat the Skills Gap

January 31, 2017

by Linda Colon

The shrinking labor pool and skills gap. It’s a nationwide phenomenon. Baby Boomers are migrating toward retirement. Millennials are continuing to join the workforce and are actually outnumbering the Gen Y population by 23 million:

Skills Gap Generational US Births by Year

Compared to the Boomer generation, the Gen X population’s decline (as much as 25%) raises the concern that the most experienced yet smallest demographic won’t be able to fill all the job vacancies of their Baby Boom predecessors.

Why do we keep hearing about the various generations? Why should we care?

According to CBIA and BlumShapiro’s 2016 Survey of Connecticut Businesses, 83 percent of top executives are over the age of 50, with half of this demographic aged 61 or older.

This year, on average, Connecticut businesses anticipate losing 3.6 % of their workforce to retirement. That percentage is expected to climb to 10% between 2018 – 2020. Over the next five years, Connecticut businesses will have to replace 16% and higher of their current workers.

With Connecticut’s unemployment rate at 4.7%, the state is quickly approaching full employment, the condition in which virtually all who are able and willing to work are employed. This means businesses will feel the push to become more attractive employers as they vie for the same pool of available recruits among peer and other industries.

Because of the shrinking national labor pool, all industries are becoming more competitive for dollars that traditionally went to manufacturing. Industry sectors are more aggressively recruiting young people to work in their industry. According to Minnesota’s MEP, manufacturing is number 41 on a list of business sectors that need employees, including retail, healthcare, IT, personal care, nursing, office jobs, childcare and others.


Hugh Barrett, who works in government relations for Mass Mutual, a life insurer with 1,800 workers in Connecticut expressed envy for state spending on training manufacturing workers. The state authorized $17.8 million in borrowing in 2011 to start manufacturing programs at three community colleges.


A major repercussion of baby boomers exiting the workforce is that companies locally and nationally are scrambling to keep the valuable, institutional knowledge from following these retirees right out the door. Getting replacement workers up to speed and thoroughly trained will also pose a challenge.

Whether it’s an owner, manager or a skilled employee exiting, here are three (3) ways to retain industry knowledge, train new and existing employees while sustaining the business:

1.) Training Within Industry (TWI) – Avoid the impacts of losing valuable knowledge well in advance of losing key employees. The individuals your staff learns from have really never been taught how to train. TWI offers a simple, powerful method that delivers lasting results. Besides sharing the knowledge, successors are trained the right way by knowing how to properly train others. This is key to employees gaining the necessary experience and goes beyond watching others via “On the Job” training or “shadowing”. It teaches the skill not the job.  Read Orange Research’s TWI success story >

TWI can help ramp up a workforce in record speed and yield outstanding results. In fact, proper Job Instruction can eliminate 80% of the most common problems related to safety, quality, productivity and personnel. TWI teaches workers more than just what to do to complete a specific task. It also reinforces how to do the job, and makes them understand why the job must be done this way. Showing them the important steps of the task at hand, then reinforcing the key points related to those tasks and explaining the reasons why the job is done this way is a proven methodology for helping a worker come up to speed quickly and accurately.

2.) Building strong leadership teams/workforce – Business owners should consider stepping back and allowing leadership to do just that – lead. Let managers foster autonomy in your employees. The sooner your leaders and the teams they are responsible for are encouraged and empowered to resolve problems and issues on their own, the sooner they can address them. This will help identify those with leadership skills. Note: This does not involve a change in ownership, but rather a change in the work environment of your business.

If you haven’t already, identify people in the functional areas needed for your leadership team, determine what their roles should be and how to avoid conflicting responsibilities. This should be initiated by a third-party to ensure transparency by the business owner when selecting appropriate resources.

3.) Self-directed work teams (SDWT) – Cross-train your employees so they are able to move in and out of areas – again teaching the skill not the job – according to ebbs and flows of demand. These teams are encouraged to work without the usual managerial supervision.

You will be able to accomplish more with the same number of people, transforming your organization into a Lean one and making for a more attractive workplace. Doing so may afford you the ability to offer performance-based pay and/or bonuses, making you a preferred employer.

Workforce conditions are fast changing but, if you recognize the time is now and fill your toolbox with the necessary training tools, you can evolve your business into a sustainable one while increasing its value.

CONNSTEP solved a huge problem for us and helped us bring our delivery rate to 100%. As a direct result of that, we have been awarded with an increase in business which, ultimately, will also benefit (our supplier) Har-Conn.”

CT manufacturer Pegaasus

Chris DePentima

CEO, Pegasus Manufacturing Inc.

“I see great value in the new experiences and perspectives CONNSTEP brings to our business, at reasonable prices. They’re not like consultants, they’re like partners in the business – willing to roll up their sleeves and help.”

AGRussell logo

Mark Burzynski

President, Arthur G Russell Co

“CONNSTEP has proved to be a tremendous resource for ESI. CONNSTEP has helped us to adapt to today’s marketplace and remain a quality minded, competitive global player. Our ISO/TS16949 implementation process was efficient and rewarding. I look forward to our future projects with CONNSTEP.”

esi CT manufacturer

Ron Delfini

President, Engineering Specialties Inc.

“CONNSTEP worked with FuelCell Energy to educate and facilitate Lean initiatives and to help meet our needs to establish an overall production improvement plan. This plan has been utilized over a period of time as a ‘guiding light’ to spur numerous improvements that dramatically reduced our product cost.”

Tom Lucas

Manager, Fuel Cell Energy

“CONNSTEP is a valuable partner to Hologic, providing the expertise and ‘outside eyes’ everyone needs to keep their continuous improvement on track. We are now well-positioned on a dynamic growth path and look forward to a long-term relationship with CONNSTEP.”

Greg Safarik

VP Manufacturing Operations, Hologic

“Our experience working with CONNSTEP has brought us benefits we never expected. It’s a great team to work with!”

Bruce Wheeler

VP of Operations, Metal Finishing Technologies Inc.

“The goals of the team were to reduce manufacturing lead-time, reduce floor space utilized, and increase worker productivity. All the goals were met. CONNSTEP helped us to better compete.”

Tornik CT manufacturer

Dan Rubbo

General Manager, Tornik LLC

“The Business Growth Program is working well for us. We enhanced our website following the meetings to improve our SEO and become more visible to search engines. The segment on negotiating …  promoted changes in our thinking and improved how we interact with customers. The mentoring between sessions was helpful in boosting our progress.”

CT manufacturer Colonial Spring

Bill Lathrop

President, Colonial Spring Co.

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