Can you combat your competition with a skills development strategy?

An Ai Group member recently expressed concern about its ability to retain its ‘preferred supplier’ status. A medium-sized manufacturer and exporter of high precision, high tolerance injection moulding dies, the member was facing strong competition from cheaper, lower quality overseas producers. In order to remain the preferred supplier for its clients, the company needed to ensure it operated to the highest level of productivity.

The CEO’s response has been to review his workforce capabilities. Along with a quality assurance training program, a leadership development plan has been prepared to ensure that cultural change is embraced and enthusiastically implemented by senior and middle management. Through the guidance and advice of one of Ai Group’s Industry Skills Advisers, working under the Industry Skills Fund, the company has identified the following skills plan to be completed by December 2015:

  • A short course of nationally recognised units in change management for five senior managers;
  • Non-accredited training in team leadership and development for 10 cell leaders;
  • Concurrent coaching in the workplace in applying leadership and people skills; and
  • Technical skills for five cell leaders in implementing Kaizen/Lean Manufacturing strategies.

Through the Industry Skills Fund, the Commonwealth Government is supporting the company’s investment in this skills development:

  • Total training costs (ex GST): $57,000
  • Government funding (50%):                 $28,500
  • Employer contribution (50%): $28,500.

Is this kind of skills plan the right development pathway to help your business remain a preferred supplier? Or would the following skills-based support be more attuned to your growth needs?

Another member will realise growth of more than 20% by December 2016 by investing in new technology and ensuring it has the skills to effectively use the technology. This micro-business with four employees specialises in custom-built timber shop fittings and decided it could compete with cheaper overseas ‘flat pack’ manufacturers.

It determined it could design, cut and ship precision, high-tolerance bespoke fit-outs within one day. State-of-the-art equipment and software was purchased. The managing director then sought assistance from the Industry Skills Fund to contribute to the significant training costs. Following free-of-charge skills advice from an Ai Group Skills Adviser, the company received a funding grant for vendor training in:

  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software (four staff);
  • Robotic/CNC router programming/operation (four staff) ; and
  • CAD software to design and control production (two staff).

Funding was also received for business management coaching for two staff over 12 months in the use of the ERP system to ensure sustained quality, performance and efficiency.

The total investment was as follows:

  • Total training costs (ex GST):                 $70,000
  • Government funding (75%): $52,500
  • Employer contribution (25%): $17,500

In a similar way, will skilling your workforce, including your management team, give your company the capability and capacity to achieve growth? New skills are likely to be required whether you are diversifying your products or services, adopting emerging technology, exporting, or positioning your company for a new market opportunity.

What activities have assisted your company to grow? Have you achieved results with skills development within your business? Share your thoughts and experiences below.

* Garry Thomas would like to acknowledge his co-author, Ai Group General Manager – Education & Training, Anne Younger


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Commencing as a Skills Adviser with Ai Group in March 2015, Garry Thomas has over 35 years’ experience in the Employment, Education and Training Sector. He previously spent seven years as a strategic business consultant in Workforce Planning; two years as CEO of a national consortium of TAFE institutes; 10 years as CEO of a large Australian Apprenticeships Centre and the ‘Tools for Your Trade’ program; and 20 years with the Commonwealth Government’s Employment and Education Departments specialising in industry programs and training funding.

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