8 Engineering Soft Skills You Need for Modern Manufacturing

By: Ben Baldwin

January 4, 2021

Engineering soft skills

So you finished school with the hard skills that qualify you for a promising career in manufacturing. But do you have the required soft skills? Or maybe, you’re a manufacturer looking for skilled employees that will understand your company’s vision. How do you find the right people who will fit and add to your corporate culture?

Finding the right people for your business depends on more than straight hard skills and qualifications. Manufacturing requires people skilled in teamwork, communication, dependability, and leadership. In modern manufacturing, engineering soft skills are just as valuable as hard skills. These enable individuals, teams, and companies to communicate clearly, think critically, and lead effectively.

As you review candidates, the process of finding the right person with the right soft skills and attitude can be difficult. Mark Murphy, the author of Hiring for Attitude explained in an interview with Forbes that as many as 89% of failed new hires were unsuccessful in their first 18 months because of their attitudes. While only 11% of new hires were unsuccessful due to a lack of hard skills.

We can see that hard skills are easily and quickly verifiable. Many companies are well aware of what qualifies a person for a specific job and how to test applicants. They are either currently qualified or they are not.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are a little trickier to discern as their application is less than straightforward. Without a keen understanding, soft skills are rarely seen immediately. Knowing which soft skills strengthen manufacturing will help you find the right people for your business and develop a stronger company culture.

But First, Why Are Engineering Soft Skills So Important?

Soft skills are like a supercharger for your hard skills. The more developed your soft skills, the better your hard skills will work for you.

In our current industrial era, manufacturing practices are constantly being challenged as the world discovers and innovates. You could say that manufacturing is in a constant state of flux as progress moves faster and faster.

Because of this, you need a wider range of skills to properly navigate the fast-paced challenges and opportunities of Industry 4.0. By developing your engineering soft skills, you and your team will be lined up for success.

Let’s go over some of the most desired soft skills and attitudes needed in modern manufacturing. You can review these to see where your skills lie and which engineering soft skills your company prioritizes.

1. It's All About Teamwork and Communication

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people.” - Steve Jobs

As we advance further into industrial progress, achievements are becoming less about one person and more about the team. Even someone as monolithic as Steve Jobs saw that the success of a project is reliant on teamwork. With this in mind, good communication and collaboration are invaluable engineering soft skills.

Teamwork

Our teams can process information better if we are skilled communicators. Teamwork falls apart if the combined knowledge of the group cannot be pooled together.

Complex projects require collaboration with large teams of people. This can often include multiple companies with whom you need to correspond. The ability to efficiently communicate and collaborate with a wide variety of people is a must-have in achieving team-oriented goals for manufacturing.

2. Fix Problems with Critical Thinking

critical thinking

As new technology and opportunities are introduced in Industry 4.0, new unpredictable challenges will arise as well. Modern manufacturers need people to creatively solve issues and take challenges head-on.

Manufacturing is often a fast-paced environment and problems need to be solved quickly. With a practiced ability to think critically, you and your teams can overcome these new challenges.

Even before issues arise, workers with critical thinking soft skills can analyze situations and point out inefficiencies that were previously unnoticed. By using work instruction software that captures production data and more, you and your team will have the right tools and knowledge to solve complex problems. Being willing to interpret data and gain insight allows you and your team to find solutions with more than technical hard skills.

3. Focus On the Little Details

This soft skill has stood the test of time across many industries. You would be hard-pressed to find a job that does not need some level of attention to detail.

But for manufacturing, precision and detail are fundamental priorities. As technological advancements allow us to fabricate items with tighter and tighter tolerances, the industry needs workers that know how to focus and plan for precision.

But precision manufacturing is only the beginning. There are other details of which employees need to be aware. These details include safety measures, cost analysis, shop floor efficiencies, and much more.

Paying close attention to the details of your manufacturing operation enables you and your teams to produce more efficiently and with greater quality.

4. Always Desire to Learn New Skills

As technology develops, manufacturers need to develop with it. We are no longer living in an age where your hard skills last a lifetime. In reality, they just get you started.

learn new skills

Manufacturing companies need to look for new avenues to develop their capabilities as well as the skills of their workforce. And they need employees who are ready to learn new skills, further their qualifications, and gain knowledge. Employees who see the never-ending potential of learning new skills are a powerful asset.

Whatever your position is, it is highly valuable for you to take and encourage cross-training opportunities. This will help your team gain a further understanding of the operation, supply chain, and business structure.

Learning new skills opens up incredible opportunities for the employee and the employer. Someone with a “ready to learn” attitude is highly desirable to modern manufacturing companies. Industry 4.0 needs employees that are adaptable and always willing to learn and grow.

5. Keep Up with New and Exciting Technology

We are way past the point of repeating the adage “technology is the future”. Modern technology is integrated into our everyday lives. It drives how we function in our workplaces and how we live in our homes. We even have wearable technology that accompanies us wherever we go.

As we’ve discussed, technological developments are constantly moving. With innovations such as IoT connected devices, data collection, cloud computing, advanced AI, 3D printing, and digital work instructions, having a genuine interest in these areas will enable you to gain a unique and clear perspective.

Keeping up with technological trends is a key way to develop your manufacturing and engineering knowledge. Understanding how the world is innovating and using technology enables you and others to gain insight into your operations and adapt to better standards.

6. Provide Leadership From Anywhere

Manufacturing work is less about the individual and more about the team. With any good team, there needs to be good leadership. This is a skill that all members of a team can incorporate as everyone is a leader to some degree.

Although leadership can often be mistaken for arrogance, they are not the same. Leadership is best presented when you recognize the strengths of those beside you. On the other hand, arrogance is when you puff up your strengths and refuse to see the strength in others.

"As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." - Bill Gates

Find people that empower those around them. When all members in a team can incorporate leadership skills and recognize their co-workers’ abilities, then the team becomes better equipped to tackle complex issues.

7. Be Dependable with or without People

The manufacturing workplace is large. There is a lot of ground to cover for management and constant supervision is impossible. Manufacturing companies need employees that are dependable and self-motivated; people that understand deadlines and are committed to their work and their teams.

Remote working

Additionally, modern technology is changing our perception of the workplace. Our workplace is quickly expanding across cities and countries. With modern technology placed on our laps, the availability to work remotely is growing at an astounding rate.

In light of this, it is important to find people that do not need someone looking over their shoulder; people that can function alone while successfully collaborating with others.

8. Recognize Failure as a Tool for Success

Finally, it is very helpful to understand the relationship between failure and success. Often we hide failures (ours or someone else's) because we fear a potential punishment. Worse is if we hide problems to avoid fixing them! But a proper reaction to failure is intrinsically linked to long-term success.

How we respond to failure says a lot about our company culture and who we are. Do we encourage open discussion or do we play the blame game? Do we welcome questions or do we look the other way? It can be argued that a corporate culture and team that is free to report failure will be able to perform at a higher level and achieve greater success.

This comes full circle to our first soft skill on communication and teamwork. If failures are hidden, then how can they be fixed? And if failure cannot be easily communicated, then problems will surface at the worst of times.

This is a simple idea but also seems to counter our normal mode of thinking. We tend to react negatively to failure and adopt a “save yourself” mentality. But this directly inhibits our team's ability to succeed.

Whether you are a worker on the shop floor or part of the management team, it is an amazing quality to understand how each recognition of failure is an opportunity for success.

How to Develop and Refine Your Soft Skills and Company Culture

Compnay culture

It is said that soft skills cannot be taught, which is only partially true. Though developing soft skills is a slow process, they can be learned and refined over time.

People are not born experts in communication nor are they born with the right attitude. The soft skills that you or I have are learned through life experience and encouragement.

Companies that encourage their employees to develop soft skills will greatly benefit through increased productivity, adaptability, and teamwork from their workers. By providing a safe testing ground through team-building activities, leadership projects, and communication exercises, workers can begin to gain the appropriate engineering soft skill experience.

We here at VKS aim to integrate our company culture into everything we do. We are constantly striving to improve our capabilities and the abilities of our employees. Whether in person or remotely, we are organizing business and social meetings to stay connected with each other. This greatly strengthens our teams and provides valuable soft skill experience with each other.

But ultimately, your attitude and soft skills are your responsibility. Strive for improvement and face challenges with exuberance and perseverance. Say yes to learning new skills, provide and accept constructive feedback, encourage self-reflection, and expand your knowledge. This will enable you and your team to face the challenges of Industry 4.0 and recognize opportunities for success in our modern industry.

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