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Published on 2018-04-16

Front line supervisors are critical, yet not often provided with training. Smart manufacturers are finding solutions to change this dynamic.

By Collin Gutman, head of Skilled Trades Division & Strategy, Penn Foster

Front line supervisors are usually named to their positions for one reason: they do great work. Whether that work is within the tightly spaced aisles of a manufacturing floor or the sprawling grounds of a retail distribution center, the person promoted to a supervisory role almost always stands out for his or her effectiveness, efficiency, and timeliness.

All of us have worked side-by-side with such a person. Maybe it was early in our careers, when we were just getting our feet wet in our chosen profession. Or maybe it was more recently, when we took responsibility for a unit or division and we decided to make our own assessment of who the key contributors were under our purview.

In the latter case, many of us have probably found ourselves eager to promote a top performer, especially one who easily stands out from others on key performance metrics. And here is where I sound the cautionary note, because the skills and attributes of a front line supervisor may, in fact, be quite different than those needed to be a successful line worker.

In far too many instances, the reality of the star employee’s transition to a front line supervisor is bumpy and jarring. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. A front line supervisor training program – built internally or outsourced to an expert – can make all the difference in providing the strategies and management skills supervisors need in the daily operations of overseeing front line employees.

This acute need for front line supervisor training comes at a critical juncture in the US workplace landscape. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects there will be an annual average of 215,000 front line supervisor job openings in industrial environments over the next several years, bringing the total front line supervisors in all fields to 2.2 million by 2026. At the same time, a Harvard Business Review report reveals that 71% of front line supervisors receive infrequent or only occasional training; and more than 90% of companies believe front line managers’ lack of leadership development negatively impacts employee engagement results.

Clearly, there is a massive opportunity to address the need for skilled front line supervisors in the industrial sector, as the fact is that many newly promoted front line supervisors lack the crucial skills necessary for job success.

The problem is summed up in how challenging it can be for employers who promote their best workers to a supervisor position, but then assume there are no prescribed training programs to help them be successful.  The solution is one that can also be summed up and offers a glimmer of hope, for there are such training programs available, including ones that are primarily online and therefore scalable.

I think you will agree that front line supervisors serve in a critical role, maintaining relationships between upper management and front line workers, yet they are typically offered few meaningful, sustained opportunities to gain the strategies and skills needed to succeed. That’s why identifying and addressing this important role in the workplace with a comprehensive curriculum is more critical than ever.

Skills training providers like Penn Foster are addressing this need. In working with its employer partners, we became acutely aware of the lack of formal training for front line supervisors, and created a comprehensive curriculum that provides anytime, anywhere access to course materials across multiple formats, including video, html-based courseware, e-books and interactive PowerPoint lessons. The intended result is that learners will quickly gain the skills and knowledge they need to become effective managers, getting them up to speed faster and improving overall productivity, while addressing the ever-widening skills gap employers are grappling with every single day.

Some might say that employee engagement is a buzzword, but I’m willing to bet that you think it’s an imperative. And what could be a greater imperative for your company than to train front line supervisors to create an environment where employees are fully engaged?

In order to create such an environment, front line managers need well-developed communication and interpersonal skills to best lead their employees. These skills range from problem solving abilities, to conflict management, and team building. Those skills can be trained.

The unvarnished truth is this: front line supervisors are often selected because of their impressive performances as front line employees. However, that means that they may not have all the tools necessary to be an effective front line supervisor and build an atmosphere of engagement. Fortunately, many of the skills necessary for increasing employee engagement can be taught with tailored front line supervisor training and the time to start that training is now.

About the Author:
Collin Gutman is the Head of Skilled Trades Division & Strategy at Penn Foster’s Workforce Development division, where he promotes skilled trades education and training as a key driver in empowering individuals to embrace skilled trades as a means to better their lives and address the skills gap. Collin runs Penn Foster’s apprenticeship work, which provides Related Technical Instruction to more apprentices than any other school in the country.














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