Bridging the UK manufacturing skills gap

Posted on 16 Aug 2023 by The Manufacturer

Mark Hughes, Regional Vice President UK & Ireland, Epicor, discusses the manufacturing skills gap and asks how the industry can both combat it in the future and reduce its impact in the present.

The UK is the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world as of 2022, providing 2.5 million jobs and an annual output of £183bn. However, despite these promising statistics, the UK manufacturing sector isn’t fulfilling its potential to become a global leader. A major factor preventing this is the growing skills gap — as a result of an ageing workforce and lack of emerging talent. To turn the tide, UK manufacturers need to take a two-pronged approach to attract the next generation of workers.

The key to successfully closing the skills gap is investing in education, training and employing the latest technologies on factory shopfloors to innovate – and build excitement around – job roles. In doing so, UK manufacturing can begin to challenge the long-held preconception that it’s not an industry where young people can build lifelong careers.

Changing attitudes: education and training

Currently, the number of new people entering the manufacturing industry does not match those that are leaving, widening the skills gap still further. This can be attributed to several factors.

Many perceive manufacturing jobs as having difficult working conditions, low wages and limited career progression. In reality, as of 2022, the average manufacturing wage is 12% higher than the whole economy. New technology innovations are making tasks easier to complete, and the sector offers varied and tailored career advancement opportunities.

To combat misconceptions, the industry needs to work more collaboratively with educational institutions, the government and other competitors in its sector to empower young people and promote manufacturing.

Pivotal to this is working with leading training providers to equip young people with the skills that are in demand and highlighting various routes to entering the industry — such as apprenticeships, where young people can learn hands-on skills while simultaneously studying for relevant industry qualifications.

It’s also important for manufacturers to work proactively with schools to build excitement from the ground up. Having employees engage with students provides an opportunity for them to share their own passion and experiences, demonstrating first-hand how it can offer a progressive and fulfilling career.

Technology and innovation

The manufacturing industry is often viewed as one with a lack of innovation, where traditional ways of hands-on working take precedence over adopting the latest technologies. However, in recent years automation and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), IoT and robotics have transformed the industry. This has created new roles and shifted the dynamic of many that already exist.

These technologies unlock value for both the business and its employees. For example, enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions can leverage AI and machine learning capabilities to analyse data and solve business challenges. In fact, 2022 research from MIT shows that robotics adoption by manufacturers is associated with higher rates of job satisfaction.

Younger generations may fear that an increase in cutting-edge technology means fewer manual jobs and lessened job security. However, employing the latest automation technologies to assist with manual jobs is a game-changer for both the industry and its employees.

For example, low-code/ no-code solutions provide automations that orchestrate human and machine tasks into an end-to-end flow. By automating many of the manual processes on the factory shopfloor that may have once taken hours to complete, employees can now move around to add value to whichever area of the company needs it most.

New technologies can help close the skills gaps as they boost employability in the manufacturing sector, making roles more appealing and dynamic. But an obstacle facing many manufacturers is that they haven’t upgraded or invested in new technologies, finding themselves still operating on legacy systems and storing their data on-premises — rather than in the cloud securely.

To stay ahead of the curve, UK manufacturers need to engage with leading technology providers to ensure that their systems and processes are up-to-date, accessible and attractive to the next generation of workers.

By working in collaboration with an industry-specific ERP partner that can tailor platforms and services to meet their needs and elevate their operations, manufacturers can put the foundations in place to keep pace with technology as it evolves. Epicor’s Industry Insights Report 2023 found that more companies than ever are migrating to the cloud in 2023, with only four percent of enterprises reporting themselves as being based on-premises.

Now more than ever, it’s crucial that manufacturers invest in a comprehensive digital transformation strategy. Not only will this innovation attract and retain more young workers, but it will ensure that your company can grow alongside them as they progress in their careers.

Looking to the future

In order to remain competitive on the global stage, the UK manufacturing industry must recognise the vital role technological innovation will play in closing the skills gap and put it at the heart of their hiring strategy. By investing in, and advocating for, new technologies as they come to market as well as dedicating the right resources to upskill employees, only then will the sector make itself attractive to the next generation of talent.

Mark Hughes headshotMark Hughes joined Epicor Software in 2018 as Regional Vice President UK and Ireland, bringing more than 25 years’ experience of working within the technology sector.

Using his extensive knowledge of international supply chains and smart manufacturing techniques, Mark has helped over 1,000 manufacturing businesses take advantage of the latest industrial innovations and ERP solutions to improve their competitive edge and increase long-term growth.

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