Addressing the skills gap

Grants, local partnerships and a leading lift truck manufacturer are addressing the skills gap in New York.

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Editor’s note: In the July/August issue of Supply Chain Management Review, we looked at how C&S Wholesale Grocers, the nation’s largest food distributor, is addressing the at its corporate headquarters in New Hampshire. With that in mind, we’re also running a few other pieces on how different organizations are addressing this issue, such as how the is utilizing interns in its program. The article below looks at how The Raymond Corporation is collaborating with Workforce New York to address the skills gap in its area. Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, Supply Chain Management Review.

The skills gap is expected to result in 2 million manufacturing jobs going unfilled by 2025, according to . The fight for top talent and the need to fill these crucial positions has become a daunting concern for material handling companies nationwide.

Recently, employers in New York’s Broome and Tioga counties were struggling to find skilled labor to fill warehouse and distribution center positions. Not finding skilled labor or being able to attract new generations into the workforce was threatening the companies’ economic prosperity, and local officials were nervous this could become a deterrent for future businesses to move into the area.

(Workforce New York) saw this challenge as an opportunity. The organization is focused on providing employment-related services for businesses, workers and job seekers in Broome County. After hearing from employers which skills were in demand and working with local residents in search of employment, Workforce New York partnered with and to create an educational program that would teach participants the necessary professional and warehouse skills to produce employable candidates to fill these crucial manufacturing positions.

Addressing community need with innovative educational programming
Through this local partnership and grants from the New York State Department of Labor and the Community Foundation of South Central New York, the Broome-Tioga Workforce Opportunity Impact Warehouse Training Program was created. The program teaches the desired professional and technical skills participants need to be hired by local businesses.

As part of the program, participants’ educational curriculum includes foundational classroom-based courses, team-building lessons and professional development skills building. This holistic approach aims to set participants up for success in today’s workplace.

Two sessions have been held, and 20 participants have graduated from the program. Upon completion, individuals were guaranteed immediate employment with participating companies.

Incorporating virtual reality into career skills building
The last week of the program centers around forklift operator education. For this opportunity, Workforce New York collaborated with to provide participants with a unique experience to use the Raymond Virtual Reality Simulator as a supplemental learning tool.

Through , virtual reality instructional systems are used to help teach participants forklift best practices and build operator confidence — all before entering a warehouse floor. The easy-to-use systems include numerous modules for progressive coaching and reteaching on areas that require additional attention. The simulator will collect and generate an operator report, providing documentation of the operator’s progress and to communicate to the instructor which areas need to be focused on and reinforced.

“The virtual reality technology allowed me to feel like I was operating a forklift in a real warehouse environment. It was really beneficial practicing how to raise and lower pallets, with actual forklift controls. It helped me be more confident about my skills and experience, all before driving a forklift in the warehouse,” said one program participant. 

Workforce New York participants said they felt learning with virtual reality kept them more engaged and provided a realistic, hands-on experience before having to perform on the job site. The participants expressed that this real-world application instilled confidence and preparedness that would help them succeed in their new roles.

One participant remarked, “As soon as you start using the virtual reality tool, you feel like you’re actually operating the equipment. When the time comes to operate in a physical warehouse environment, I feel I will have less of a learning curve and be more comfortable on the forklift.”

Leveraging next-generation technology for talent attraction
Virtual reality learning not only helps operators reach higher proficiency levels faster but also it can attract new and younger talent to the industry.

The gamified educational experience makes the learning more enjoyable and, in some cases for the younger generations, more familiar, as it’s similar to popular gaming tools. As participants progress through the learning modules in virtual reality, instructors and fellow participants can watch on screen as an individual performs various maneuvers on a forklift.

For the Workforce New York participants, watching each other progress through the modules served as an additional way of learning and set the stage for friendly competition. As participants saw others advance with each lesson, they challenged one another to get a higher score than before. This type of education and challenge pushed the participants to do better and learn from each other’s experiences.

Continuously learning and improving with advanced technology tools can help operators continue to progress with their skills and, ultimately, improve a company’s bottom line productivity.

Creating mutually beneficial results
Overall, the feedback from the Opportunity Impact Warehouse Training Program was overwhelmingly positive and all 20 participants have been placed in full-time employment upon graduation. Participants expressed that learning with a virtual reality tool increased their confidence and better prepared them for their new careers.

Virtual reality education is a next-generation technology that is transforming the manufacturing industry and can help narrow the skills gap many companies are facing. Offering a dynamic learning experience for new and existing talent can help attract, as well as retain, employees and create a more efficient workforce.

Dave Norton, vice president of corporate quality and customer care, The Raymond Corporation



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