The manufacturing industry has seen rapid advancement in recent years, as automation and technology continue to permeate the field. Gone are the long hours of manual labor and grit associated with manufacturing jobs. Now, the industry boasts advanced technical machinery, increasingly automated processes and a viable career path for many. However, many existing and future employees lack the skills needed to support the rampant technical advancement facing the manufacturing industry today.

A recent Deloitte study estimates that 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will be left unfilled by 2028. Bridging the manufacturing skills gap calls for innovative training approaches to equip employees with the new technical skills they need to succeed in the industry. Simulation training is one training approach that has the potential to recruit and onboard employees and provide them with the skills they need to succeed in the manufacturing industry.

What Is Simulation Training?

Simulation training involves the use of equipment or computer software to model a real-world scenario. In this virtual environment, learners are taught basic tasks that they can later apply on the job. In manufacturing, simulation training is especially effective in troubleshooting (solving problems in a mechanical or technical system). Simutech Multimedia’s 3D simulation training program was designed with this use in mind.

Samer Forzley, CEO at Simutech Multimedia, says, “Troubleshooting, or the way you think about issues, cannot possibly be covered in a course, in a textbook or an online course. You need some way to experience something, and simulation helps with that.”

In addition to successfully teaching complex ideas, simulation training helps new employees better retain information. While traditional instructor-led training (ILT) may succeed in initially relaying information to learners, Forzley says, “As an employee, you may not retain as much [information] as [you do after] actually ‘doing.’ Simulation is the safest way to ‘do,’ but it is also the best way to retain.”

For learning and development (L&D) professionals looking to improve learners’ knowledge retention, offering continuous learning opportunities for employees — such as brief simulations detailing a newly-implemented technical process or technology — can be especially beneficial in keeping employees knowledgeable of new industry trends and practices.

Simulation Training in Recruitment and Skills Development

Even before the learner begins the training process, simulation training helps employers recruit employees by assessing skills and identifying gaps in various knowledge areas. This approach helps employers focus on training new employees in areas that need sharpening, creating an individualized learning experience for new hires. “You’ve worked on their weaknesses in the software, and this way they can onboard much faster,” Forzley notes.

Simulation training also offers manufacturing candidates a cutting-edge, technical work environment, which is one way of initially attracting them to the industry.

According to contributor Jim Vinoski, who has worked in the manufacturing industry for decades at companies like General Mills and Ralston-Purina, “[If] you take someone fresh into the workplace and put them in front of a dirty machine, it’s not the most glamorous or high-tech approach to the world.” However, “If you have them hooked up to a simulated machine [or] you have them doing virtual reality training, now you’re putting manufacturing in a very different light.”

In terms of finding qualified manufacturing candidates, while many boast strong theoretical and technological backgrounds, they may not have the industry experience needed to successfully perform on the job. Simulation training can help bridge that gap, according to Forzley, which is critical, as the industry prepares to fill over 2.69 million manufacturing jobs that will be left open by retirees over the next 10 years.

Simulation training is one way training professionals can help successfully transfer knowledge during this major workforce shift, bridging the skills gap across the industry.

Addressing Health and Safety Concerns

The manufacturing industry can have high potential for health and safety hazards on the floor, and training new employees through simulation offers a safe alternative to traditional hands-on methods.

“There’s always a risk of putting someone into an environment that has a safety hazard and, if they’re not trained or they’re not skilled, the potential for injury is high,” Vinoski shares. He notes that allowing new employees to learn the ins and outs of a machine, new technology or specific manufacturing role through simulation — without putting them at risk — is a “big plus” for the industry.

Thus, a major benefit of simulation training is the fact that it provides a safe environment for employees to learn and experiment with more advanced skills and processes. According to a blog post by Designing Digitally, “It provides a virtual environment where you can practice and make as many mistakes as you wish to. Every time you make a mistake, you analyze where you went wrong and avoid repeating it at your workplace.”

Training professionals should encourage learners to embrace experimentation and curiosity within the simulated environment so that, when they move onto the floor, they are able to operate in a safer — and more effective — manner.

Advancing Manufacturing Employees’ Professional Development

Through advanced training, manufacturing employees will be equipped with the skills needed to fill the many roles that are appearing across the industry — and build a lasting career in the field.

“It’s not just turning wrenches anymore — it’s knowing how to program and knowing how those automation computers mesh with the mechanical and processes systems,” Vinoski says. “So, it’s a higher level of work that can, in the end, raise what manufacturing and technician operators make [monetarily].”

All in all, by tailoring programs to new employees’ specific learning needs, encouraging learners to experiment throughout the training process and facilitating knowledge transfer as experienced employees face retirement, training professionals can ensure simulation training is successful not only in bridging the manufacturing skills gap but also in setting employees up for success in the rapidly advancing industry that is manufacturing.