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Addressing the manufacturing skills gap earlier — the only option for sustainable growth

(Image credit: Image Credit: Firma V / Shutterstock)

Amid ongoing political and economic uncertainties, there are concerns that manufacturing will continue to face a significant talent shortage next year, causing growing concerns for the future of the industry. Despite continued advancements in Industry 4.0 technologies and software, innovation alone simply isn’t enough to sustain future growth within the manufacturing sector. Ultimately, it will be the people—with the right skills to harness new technologies—that will continue to drive the industry forwards.

The future of manufacturing relies heavily on the investment of new talent, but earlier this year, the National Association of Manufacturers found that 522,000 jobs remained open in the sector—a clear indication that the manufacturing skills gap remains a huge problem. With 14 per cent of young people viewing the industry as dull and repetitive and just six per cent of the industry believing it to be a young person’s industry, it is hardly surprising that manufacturers are struggling to recruit.

A further question currently plaguing the mind of business owners and manufacturers is who will be left to hire in the wake of ongoing political and economic strife. As the UK government looks to reduce immigration from the EU by around 80 per cent through Brexit, manufacturers could be facing a devastating labour shortage. A survey of 6,000 employers has shown that 81 per cent of manufacturers are already finding it difficult to employ staff with the right qualifications and experience necessary—and a significant reduction in potential applicants will only worsen the situation.

If left unaddressed, the skills shortage will continue to result in devasting consequences, with many businesses set to face a decline in productivity, increased operation costs, and an inability to fulfil consumer demands as a result. In order to mitigate this, manufacturers must consider other ways to draft in new employees. This includes attracting individuals much earlier in their careers. Manufacturers should be working with educational boards to encourage younger generations, who will carry the industry through to a new digital era, into the sector.

Overcoming generational misperceptions

The skills gap is currently being exacerbated by the attitudes held by younger generations towards the industry. Manufacturing is often seen as an old person’s sector, though in reality this is simply not true. If these attitudes remain, the battle to attract and retain workers will continue. Some companies have already taken it upon themselves to stamp out these misperceptions through various methods, including holding exhibition days, where visitors are given a real taste of life in manufacturing. These events help expose the younger generations to the reality of the sector, enabling companies to eradicate industry misconceptions and attract a new generation of enthusiastic workers.

Another opportunity to address these misconceptions is for schools and colleges to educate students on manufacturing, encouraging people from a young age to explore it as a possible career option. After all, awareness is key—and if young people aren’t offered the necessary information at the right time in their educational career, opportunities for recruitment will be missed.

Let the tech do the talking 

Organisations are also currently in danger of overlooking a key factor that is likely to attract the younger generations—new and innovative technologies. The question is, how do you draw in a generation who have grown up living and breathing technology? The answer is simple—show them the exciting developments they have yet to experience and that they could work with every day. With advancements being made regularly in AI, robotics, and ERP, the manufacturing industry is currently in one of its most exciting stages—which it now must show off to pique young workers’ interest.

Not only can businesses do more to attract talent from outside, but they can also do more within to keep workers engaged. Reverse mentoring is becoming more widely used amongst industries, with many firms now experiencing the benefits. Not only is this helping bridge the skills gap by encouraging digital-native workers to pass on key knowledge and new skills to all employees, but it can also help instil a sense of purpose in young workers and boost job satisfaction. Employees are more likely to stay at a company that gives them unique responsibilities, and show they listen and value their input in the business.

To tackle the ongoing skills shortage, businesses must look and cater to future generations. By educating and engaging individuals earlier, and investing in the technologies to attract new workers, manufacturing firms could help shore up their work floors for future success. However, ensuring new employees are equipped for success once they are in the job should also be a vital consideration for firms. Tools like intelligent, voice-activated agents, designed to simplify daily tasks, can help boost productivity and efficiency, ensuring that workers deliver genuine business value and help maximise firms’ profits and output.

Mark Hughes, Regional Vice President UK & Ireland, Epicor