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by Annika Björkholm

Agile, motivated, and skilled team members.

Do they even exist in manufacturing?

The answer is “of course they do [yes]”.

But let's be honest: historically, skills development programs haven't exactly been showering our operational and frontline teams with love.

Continuous improvement is driven by innovative ideas. Innovative ideas are born from a culture of learning. And now I’m not only talking about ideas presented by leadership, but by those curious individuals working at the frontline who directly impact operational outcomes.

Fostering a culture that encourages sharing improvement suggestions - even the ones that aren’t great - benefits everyone in an organization. A strong employer brand focused on learning attracts those agile candidates who contribute with innovative ideas. Also, business outcomes improve when people feel that they’re contributing to shaping processes for the better. These team members are often more productive and loyal - to the delight of hiring managers, trainers, and HR who often battle high turnover rates in manufacturing.

A corporate culture that turns a blind eye on frontline skills development isn't just a missed opportunity for those flexible and intrinsically driven people hungry to grow their careers - it's a risk for competitive edge in a world with ever-higher and ever-faster demands.

The Challenge: Lost in the fog.

Learning resources hidden in the shadows, non-existent mentoring, and career paths shrouded in mystery.

One of the biggest roadblocks to frontline talent retention and skill development is often the lack of clear expectations and unclear career trajectories.

This lack of visibility is demotivating and negatively impacts the performance and potential of ambitious team members. They won’t stick around for long.

Making sure these deskless teams have a clear path to upskill and climb the career ladder is non-negotiable when talking about continuous improvement.

Let’s look at practical solutions to build a culture of learning, the foundation of continuous improvement.

Solution 1: Shine a Light & Map the Journey

To blast away the fog, we need a transparent competency framework that spells out exactly what skills each role needs. Dynamic and up-to-date skills matrices with personalized development plans accessible to everyone bring clarity to all levels in the team. This not only empowers associates to learn on their own, but also helps managers spot skill gaps and progress, ensuring training hits the mark for both individual dreams and company goals.

Solution 2: Leveling up, on-demand

We need to unleash the inner voracious learner in our frontline teams by making self-directed learning easy, motivating, and accessible. A comprehensive repository of on-the-job training materials, designed to facilitate individual professional development helps shine a light on what’s expected from each individual - and how they personally benefit from it. Clear and defined pathways will enable employees to actively manage their learning journeys, bridging identified skill gaps and propelling their careers along pre-established trajectories.

Solution 3: Make learning a habit, not a chore

Operational excellence and learning go hand-in-hand. By focusing on the most critical skill gaps and allocating resources wisely, we ensure our workforce isn't just equipped for today, but future-proofed for whatever comes next. This proactive approach makes us nimble, a magnet for top talent, and the envy of the competition.

Turning Learning into Operational Excellence

To truly own excellence, we need to champion a growth mindset across the whole organization.

That means:

● Taking learning seriously and regularly updating resources. If it’s not up-to-date,

it means it’s not important.

● Treating everyone as a knowledge worker. Encouraging every team member to

share their ideas and suggestions.

● Being proactive about addressing skill gaps, allocating resources where they

make the biggest impact.

● Stop seeing investing in frontline learning and development as “a good deed”.

It's a strategic power move for operational excellence and agility.

By empowering your people with the tools, clarity, and support they need to grow, you build a dynamic, skilled workforce that drives continuous improvement and keeps you ahead of the pack.

Remember, your people are your greatest asset. Invest in their growth and watch your success soar. Let's get this learning culture revolution started.


Annika Björkholm is a continuous improvement enthusiast and one of the co-founders of SwipeGuide, a frontline how-to platform for digital job aids and skills development that empowers teams to perform at their best.

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