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Reshoring: 6 Ways to Overcome Shortages of Skilled Workers

A skilled machinist monitors the cut on a vertical turning centre.

A skilled machinist monitors the cut
on a vertical turning centre.

When a manufacturer brings production home from overseas, how does it find the skilled workers needed to staff its facilities?

An increasing number of manufacturers have found reshoring to be a viable alternative to offshoring. There are sound economic reasons to bring manufacturing back to North America. Some of these are:

  • Control of the supply chain
  • Communication problems with remote countries
  • Transport costs and delays
  • Cultural differences
  • Problems related to quality
  • Reputation for good quality of products manufactured in your country
  • Positive publicity – supporting the home country
  • Possibility of worker exploitation in some countries

But once having set up production in your own country, another problem looms:

Unemployment in Canada is at 5.8% – the lowest ever recorded. In the US it’s at 3.8%. So where do we find the skilled workers for these positions?

Here are some suggestions from a speech to the Toronto Board of Trade by Michael Denham, former Managing Director of Accenture.

Reinvent the company

Traditional company structures based on a line-and-staff organisation with a rigid hierarchy may not make the best use of skills already available in the company. A more flexible organisational structure and career tracks for employees focusing on skills rather than functions can open opportunities. For example, a skill centre with people who have analytical skills can support operations such as finance, HR, logistics and operations.

Reassess employees

Uncover the hidden talent in existing employees! They often have skills that their employer is not aware of. One fabricator discovered that a shop worker, an immigrant from the Philippines, was a registered architect in his home country. He was transferred to the estimating office of the engineering department where he filled a gap in staffing.

Recruit capacity to learn

Job descriptions tend to be narrow, requiring very specific skills. According to Peter Harris, “In the digital age, employment will not always depend on the completion of a formal education but will rely heavily on job seekers’ willingness and ability to continually develop new skills.”  This approach would access a much broader group of candidates. New hires could go straight into training programmes where they would learn the specific skills needed.

Redeploy skills

Skills utilized in one sector may be transferable to another. Experience in one industry is often an advantage in another. Capital intensive industries are more used to redeploying employees, because when a capital-intensive operation such as a mine comes to the end of its useful life or shifts from exploration to operation, employers will redeploy their skilled workers to other positions or even other locations. Skill-sets may be common to more than one industry ­— manufacturers of equipment and supplies for public utilities may find that forestry workers have the knowledge and skills for their operation.


As the face and technology of industry changes, new skills, specifically in IT, are needed.  Industries, educational institutions and governments need to be proactive in the upskilling of workers.

Training in some of the more traditional mid-skilled roles is still needed. According to Harris “Skilled trade workers (electricians, welders, mechanics), sales representatives, drivers, engineers, and technicians have consistently ranked among the top five hardest roles to fill in Canada for the past ten years.”  Keep an eye out for employees who would capable of taking on this challenge.

Immigrant Workers

A simple reality is that where there is a shortage of workers with particular skills, immigration of people with those skills will complement our workforce, not compete with it. The Filipino architect mentioned above, meant that opportunity was made for other employees to fill the opening he left.

Remember that immigrants, by the very fact of having taken the step of uprooting their lives for another country, generally show initiative, enthusiasm and energy. The National Foundation for American Policy found that almost half American start-up companies were launched by immigrants and that forty percent of the immigrant founders in the survey entered the United States as employment-sponsored immigrants.

Companies will face new challenges as reshoring picks up tempo but the results, providing that they are properly planned for, will be beneficial.

What method have you found to overcome skills shortages in your industry?

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