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Engaging Nontraditional Manufacturing Talent

Article written by Chris Cunningham, PhD, UC Foundation Professor of Psychology, and Spencer Paulson, Lead Working Group Facilitator & Graduate Assistant, Industrial and Organizational Psychology Department, both from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.


Introduction and Overview

The fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) is ushering in new ways of manufacturing, categorized by advanced technologies and human-machine interactions in cyber-physical spaces. These changes are creating new processes and demands for manufacturing workers and organizations to handle. As discussed in other posts by the Smart Factory Institute, the ideal Industry 4.0 worker will need to be a “smart worker” who has advanced technological knowledge, comprehensive soft skills and teamwork abilities, and a variety of other competencies not traditionally associated with many manufacturing roles. This need for new and advanced talent exacerbates the already present and persistent talent shortage challenge in the manufacturing industry. The advancements and demands associated with Industry 4.0 open up opportunities for the manufacturing industry to reconsider its talent acquisition strategies. Now is the time to seriously explore ways of recruiting, training, and exploring traditionally underrepresented talent groups who can provide the type of smart workers needed to operate Industry 4.0 manufacturing organizations. This series of blog posts (beginning with this overview) summarizes the findings of an interactive working session organized by the Smart Factory Institute in December 2022. Five underrepresented, and in some cases ignored populations were examined as potential sources for manufacturing talent in the future: Women, Returning Citizens, Non-English Speakers, Disabled Workers, and Military Veterans/Service Members.


This working session took place at the Smart Factory Institute’s Smart Workforce Conference, which brought together recruiters, managers, directors, vice presidents, and government leaders specializing in manufacturing talent management throughout Tennessee to discuss the future worker-related needs, challenges, and opportunities within an Industry 4.0 framework. These talent management subject matter experts (SMEs) differed in expertise and represented multiple public and private organizations. The focus of the conversation during this working session was on how manufacturing organizations can better attract members of the populations noted above to work in manufacturing. These SMEs separated into five different working groups for this session, each representing one of the nontraditional potential talent populations. Each working group then explored three core questions:


1. What is the manufacturing industry doing well to reach this talent group?

2. What is the manufacturing industry not doing well to accommodate this talent group?

3. What can the manufacturing industry do better to attract and retain this type of talent?


Each focus group was led by a trained facilitator from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Industrial and Organizational Psychology graduate program, under the guidance of Dr. Chris Cunningham. These facilitators guided their groups through an open brainstorming discussion through which responses to the three questions just noted were gathered without filtering and then organized by groups into main themes. These themes or main points were then highlighted and shared back to the overall group as a wrap-up to this working session. This series of blog posts converts the themes and main points identified in each of these working groups into brief summaries that are relevant to talent management professionals in any manufacturing organization. Stay tuned for the first group we will cover which will be Military Veterans/Service Members.


The Smart Factory Institute continues to bridge the gap between future technology and manufacturers to ensure workers possess the advanced technological knowledge and skills to succeed in today's manufacturing climate. Our next signature event which will wrap up Chattanooga Engineers Week, the Automation, Maintenance, & Reliability Summit, sponsored by the University if Tennessee Center for Industrial Services, will be focused for automation and maintenance professionals to understand how they can maximize asset reliability and avoid machine downtime, while ultimately improving their automation, maintenance, and reliability programs. Get tickets now.


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