Can’t find skilled workers? Try this American strategy from World War II

Norman Rockwell’s 1943 painting “Rosie the Riveter.” Mary Doyle Keefe, the model for the painting, died earlier this year at the age of 92.

Manufacturers fret about a skills shortage and the loss of powerful knowledge as baby boomers retire. Instead of fretting, I suggest looking back to the beginning of World War II as an easily available and proven response to both concerns.

At the beginning of WWII, millions of American men left jobs in manufacturing to fight the war. Those departures happened as the need for manufacturing to build war materials was skyrocketing.

American industry did a great job of bringing women in from homemaker duties and developing “Rosie the Riveter,” a productive manufacturing worker. How?

The U.S. government created Training Within Industry (TWI), developed to build the productivity of the new workforce as quickly as possible, and it worked extremely well. The components of TWI originally included job relations, job instruction and job methods. Each of these sections of TWI was created for specific purposes, addressing challenges most important to manufacturing productivity and safety.

Revisiting success

Following WWII, the U.S. government sent TWI expertise to Japan to support that recovery effort. Japan built upon TWI principles to develop job safety. Seventy years later, those processes remain integral to the productivity of Japanese manufacturers. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of U.S. manufacturers leverage any part of TWI methodology today.

It’s time to relearn the lessons of Rosie the Riveter.

TWI brings valuable practices to manufacturing today, and I encourage exposure to all sections. Job methods is a process to define standardized work for the best way to accomplish any specific job. Job Instruction is a fast, effective process for training someone how to do a job correctly. Together, those aspects of TWI capture retiring knowledge and use that expertise to quickly, safely and effectively develop newer employees. End fretting; resolve the challenge with these two proven methodologies.

Job relations teaches the fundamentals of creating a respectful work environment. Job safety facilitates recognition and elimination of environmental and safety hazards. Manufacturers benefit from implementing these processes as well.

From the past to the future

Yes, manufacturing is more complex than it was in the 1940s, but it’s our job to make it simple. TWI job methods and job instruction are tools to do that.

Yes, OSHA and EPA rules are increasingly demanding. Job safety is no less effective today than when it was developed.

Yes, the younger generation doesn’t have the same philosophy about work that baby boomers do, but job relations is an effective method for all work environments.

TWI is in the public domain and freely available, but written in government speak of the 1940s. Not an easy read, so I encourage a search for materials written more recently and with video examples. Internet searches will provide plenty of information to determine if you want to implement TWI in your organization.

The details matter a great deal, so no shortcuts! Read, watch, learn and then practice TWI thinking. It may not be new or exciting, but it’s effective. Which of those matters most to you?