April 2020
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TD Magazine

Focused on People

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Small and medium-size manufacturing firms succeed by tackling people challenges.

To transform your company, pairing process and product improvement strategies with people and talent development strategies can deliver a win-win for employees and the organization. Take, for example, the results of nonprofit Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center's Genesis initiative.


In 2014, IMEC set out to help boost business performance, job quality, and racial equity and inclusion at 22 Chicago-area manufacturers. Genesis at Work: Evaluating the Effects of Manufacturing Extension on Business Success and Job Quality, a five-year analysis prepared by the Aspen Institute in collaboration with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Portland State University, tells the story of the initiative and its results.

Using a strategic, people-focused needs assessment approach, IMEC assisted participating firms in addressing their people challenges. Examples include offering workforce training and opportunities for frontline staff to relearn skills and safety standards, implementing a skills assessment process, and providing one-on-one leadership training for supervisors. The initiative also guided participating organizations on ways to address ineffective or nonexistent HR systems, underdeveloped pathways for promotion for women and workers of color, and lagging compensation and benefits.

The analyses in Genesis at Work found that an increased focus on workforce management, skill requirements, and workers' needs and concerns resulted in near- and longer-term business success. More than half of Genesis companies reported a sales increase as a result of their participation in the initiative, compared to 37 percent of other IMEC clients. Further, 71 percent of Genesis companies reported cost savings related to their participation, compared to 47 percent of other IMEC clients.

The program delivered positive results for workers too. Employees at Genesis companies saw their average annual earnings rise 12 percent from 2014 to 2017, while the share of the workforce earning low wages (below $30,000) fell from 34 percent to 26 percent during the same period. Further, job stability and security improvements led to turnover rates at Genesis companies falling from 5.5 percent in 2015 to 4.3 percent in 2017.

About the Author

I'm a developmental editor at ATD Press, working primarily with books. I joined the ATD team in December 2014. I review manuscripts and team up with authors to produce well-written and well-developed books. Before ATD, I worked as a jack-of-all-trades editor for a small editing and design firm in DC. with a focus on economic and development reports. I have a master's in publishing from George Washington University.

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