Is Your Maintenance Skills Gap Robbing You of Hard-Earned Profit?

Reliable Manufacturing® should be a strategic goal for all verticals within the industry, whether you have rotating, reciprocating or static assets within the manufacturing process. Consistency and confidence in the manufacturing process ultimately curtail the need for costly downtime, rework, or reconfiguration. 

Reliable Manufacturing® is achieved when systems and assets start upon demand, operate as intended for the desired period, and produce a quantity of product that meets predefined quality standards and exceeds customer expectations efficiently and effectively.

When this standard is met, defects and errors are greatly reduced, operator care increases, and the need to compromise quality or efficiency is eliminated. The final result is felt through all channels. Increased sales, a more satisfied customer base, improved reputation, and even more confident operators are all part of a successful journey to reliability. 

Skill Gaps in Industrial Manufacturing

Industrial and manufacturing sites throughout North America are facing a severe skills dilemma. They are discovering that their historical workforce is retiring at staggering numbers. At the same time, new hires lack the craft and hard skills needed to properly repair, maintain and service tens of millions of dollars of critical plant equipment. 

Known far and wide as the manufacturing skill gap, it’s a hotly debated issue in terms of the labor market and hiring within the industry. It’s not just a buzzword, though – many industrial manufacturers nationwide are running into the issues of high turnover rates. A study, conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute (MI) in 2021, predicts that there will be 2.1 million unfilled positions within the industry by 2030. 

When open positions are filled, manufacturing leads notice an imbalance in their workforce. Tenured operators who have been on the job for over a decade and newer faces who were just onboarded are on completely different levels regarding their essential hard and soft skills. The result is a lack of reliability – not in the operators themselves, but in the consistency and quality of work.  

Possessing and applying correct essential skills in daily activities and improvement work (aimed at reducing “bad actors”) will more effectively start an industrial site on the road to Reliable Manufacturing®. 

The Problem with Reactive Maintenance 

What was discovered in a 20+ year study by Reliability Solutions co-founders Ian McKinnon and Tim Dortch, included the observation and intrusive disassembly of countless failed and broken-down equipment. 

One of the key elements revealed through this study was the presence of multiple installation and assembly errors that were continuously reintroduced into the system during repair, service and operation. These errors result in high vibration and temperatures that increase frictional/unproductive loads, drastically reducing the equipment’s Resistance to Failure (R2F) and life cycle time. 

The result is the loss of several hours of essential work time, attempts to “fix” machinery that actually shortens asset life and the generation of trade technicians who become firefighters. Hence, firefighting never allows time for identifying and correcting the root issues. The “quality of work” fails to meet expectations, leading to “infant mortality” and random failures.

Herein lies the “circle of despair,” where personnel relentlessly focus on the basics during emergency-driven work orders but do not know or are not allowed to transition the essentials into the work quality. This approach creates enormous amounts of “re-work,” leaving equipment at risk of failure while repeatedly operating at reduced performance.

 As a result, the organization fights a losing battle, only to produce unnecessary loss of funding. Operating an industrial site with this kind of manufacturing strategy is a poor investment. Margins become slim, and hard-earned profits are squandered due to the relentless strife to keep equipment running at all costs. Why do we have time and money to fix it when it breaks, but no time and money to do it right the first time?

Closing the Skill Gap 

There is a more effective way; it starts by addressing the true root of the problem. Where is the skill gap, and how can it be filled? How can manufacturers get all of their operators, regardless of tenure, on the same page, turning reactive maintenance into proactive maintenance? 

 Reliability Solutions has formulated a skills improvement “Roadmap” that, when followed, can build the workforce skill sets needed to deliver compelling, profitable results. The curriculum was born from fundamental craft knowledge applied during a 20+ year study to find solutions for repetitive machinery failures that resulted in unscheduled downtime, increased re-work, and emergencies that increased the risk of injury and uncontrollable loss of profit. 

The study saw ‘failed’ equipment forensically analyzed, bad actors investigated, and countless hours of mining failure data sorted through and analyzed. This work revealed what we now know as Precision Maintenance® and the application of the Essential Craft Skills (ECS). Today, the teaching, learning, and application of these essential skills are helping companies discover a more effective solution for improvement by training the industrial workforce of the future and accomplishing the results from within.

Closing the Manufacturing Skills Gap Starts with Training 

A practical starting point is to quantify the skill levels of your craft team. Where is your team at in their journey to complete skills consistency?

The Skills Assessment

While there might be a general, broad idea of where the performance pitfalls are, a genuine, benchmarked assessment is the best way to discover the full breadth of a maintenance skill gap.  This can be accomplished by conducting a Craft or Trades Skills Assessment. 

The skills assessment is not a test but an indicator of what is known and, more importantly, what is not known. It validates the need for hands-on training and indicates the correct starting point for each craftsman: you might begin with Field Prep, to learn the core proficiencies, or move directly into the Essential Craft Skills course: ECS 1, Machinery Installation and Assembly (See Figure 1).

Conveniently conducted online, the craft skills assessment contains thought-provoking questions centered on two main categories containing 26 topics, as shown in the graph below. 

  • Core Proficiencies (highlighted yellow in Figure 2, the ECS prerequisite): Here, the “basic” mechanical trades knowledge and applied skills are gauged.
  • Essential Craft Skills (ECS): These skills are needed to repair, install, and assemble equipment into the precise state required to operate efficiently, effectively, and reliably.

A study of over 1000 skills assessments conducted throughout North America reveals the following results:

  • Less than 5% score at or above core proficiency
  • A 75+% score indicates knowledge of the core proficiencies
  • Average Core Proficiency score: 58%

Figure 3 shows a site’s group statistics for all mechanical trades and indicates proficiency in only 1 out of 26 categories.


Closing the skills gap in manufacturing is more than just the job of training teams and operators. Closing the gap and taking the journey to reliable manufacturing is an all-hands-on-deck endeavor, with leadership also playing a part. 

Manufacturing leads should strive to make changes that positively affect their workers. They should ensure that there are opportunities for growth within the organization and that employees are recognized for their accomplishments and skills. 

Part of ensuring operational excellence lies in the importance of operator care. When preparing for training and assessments that will strive to close the skills gap, communicate clearly and openly about what to expect and when the training and assessments will be. Closure of the skills gap will be impossible without clear communication across all channels and all levels of the funnel. 


Once you’ve identified the gaps, it’s time to set up the training necessary to find the training that will correctly address the issues and get everyone on the same page. Effective training should be both hands-on and in a digital environment, ensuring that all operators are given the full scope of their responsibilities and will, eventually, land on the same level of precision maintenance skills, operator care, and operational efficiency. 

The Journey to Reliable Manufacturing

The skills gap in manufacturing sites throughout North America will not fix itself. It will only be lessened if those skill gaps are addressed and corrected. Manufacturers empower craft/trade personnel through that training journey to install, assemble, and care for equipment precisely so that all assets become reliable. This is a requirement to achieve and sustain Reliable Manufacturing® and a competitive advantage needed to win in the global market.

Reliability Solution’s mission is to assist our partner base in implementing Reliable Manufacturing® processes and train the industrial workforce of the future to increase manufacturing’s profitable performance. Simply stated, there are no other standardized and series of integrated courses of these types, applying essential precision techniques, with measured positive results anywhere else in the world. We invite you to discover more!

Contact Us for more information.