Diversity and inclusivity: essential to bridging the skills gap

Posted on 18 Oct 2022 by The Manufacturer

Hiring has become increasingly challenging for manufacturers. Here, Michael Page Manufacturing speaks to one of its most successful mentor and mentee pairings to understand how employers can appeal to young and diverse STEM talent.

The manufacturing sector has traditionally struggled to attract young and diverse talent. This can become a circular problem, with fewer diverse candidates wanting to join organisations that aren’t visibly diverse. At Michael Page Manufacturing, we have a strong focus on diverse hiring and connecting diverse talent of all kinds with top employers in the sector.

Mentoring is a key strategy to accomplish this. To understand more about how the industry can better appeal to diverse talent, we recently spoke to one of our most successful mentor and mentee pairings. For the last two years, Matt Devine has mentored (and learned much in turn from) Jaymie Benka-Davies, a young black woman who has recently completed her Masters of Science in mechanical engineering, and will soon start her first industry role. We sat down with them both for an insightful Q&A to find out more about their mentorship structure.

Q&A: Jaymie Benka-Davies, MScEng

Why did you choose to study mechanical engineering at university?

I’d always had an interest in understanding how things work – physics was always one of my favourite subjects at school. As such, mechanical engineering seemed like a great choice.

What attracted you to industry?

After spending five years studying mechanical engineering and how it’s applied in an industry context, it seemed like a waste to not put everything I’d learned into practice. I definitely feel I’ve made the right decision.

What choices did you have to make post-university?

I had to consider practicalities: exactly what I wanted the job to entail, where I wanted to be located and, if it was far from home, whether I’d be willing to relocate. One of my top priorities was salary; for me, this was a key indicator that my skillset was worth the time I’d spent developing it. When looking at companies, there were a few things I was looking for: was it somewhere I’d be proud to say I worked? Would I fit in with the people and culture and feel comfortable to be myself? And of course, would I enjoy my work?

How can manufacturing employers become more appealing to graduates, apprentices and younger applicants?

One of the most important factors is to give potential candidates a solid understanding of what the role entails. The job description is really important to get people interested and ideally, it should give an indication of the type of person they are looking for, and if possible, the kind of work that was being done by the last person to hold that position. An interview with that person would be a real bonus if it could be arranged.

How can manufacturing employers become more appealing to a diverse workforce?

Show that you are already diverse – that will make the biggest difference in attracting more diverse candidates. Beyond that, it’s important to show that your business offers an inclusive environment and that you allow your people to bring their whole selves to work. An example of this would be allowing people to take time off for cultural or religious holidays and promoting that to prospective candidates.

What advice would you give to other young professionals considering a career in engineering and manufacturing?

Don’t be put off by the prospect of being the odd one out. Have faith in your ability and be proud of yourself and your achievements.

What do you hope to achieve in the next ten years, and what barriers do you expect?

I hope to gain enough skills and expertise to maximise my opportunities and work anywhere around the world. I’d also love to specialise in an area like sustainability, working as part of a team that innovates in the space and creates new ways of generating green energy. I’m a pretty confident person, and I don’t see any barriers to my progression that I can’t overcome.

Q&A: Matt Devine, Customer Engagement Director, PageGroup

What made you want to get involved in a mentoring programme?

I do a lot of work with young people in my local community and it is extremely rewarding to have a positive impact on a young person’s life. Professionally, I have worked in engineering and manufacturing recruitment for over 20 years. I wanted to bring together what I have learned in my community work, and the skills and expertise gained in my professional career. The time that I have spent in engineering and manufacturing has highlighted to me the STEM skills shortage in the UK. I worked with a number of companies in the industry, as well as early talent and diversity organisations, to help address this. Mentoring was a natural next step; by mentoring young students from academia into industry, I hoped to help create positive examples for others early in their careers, and to increase the proportion of STEM students transitioning into industry.

What did you learn from the mentoring experience?

Applying for roles in industry is challenging for a young person studying a STEM subject at college or university, and they are not necessarily guaranteed to be successful in getting an industry role. Also, the reasons for seeking a STEM role will often be unique and personal. Inclusivity, sustainability, belonging and global mobility can all be key factors for applicants when they decide which opportunities to pursue. And, most importantly, I learnt that there is some excellent young talent out there just waiting to be discovered.

Is the sector developing a more diverse workforce?

Yes, businesses are striving harder than ever to become inclusive. Inclusivity is the key first step – putting the right processes, values, commitments and environments in place before looking to recruit from diverse or underrepresented talent pools. Our industry is definitely not there yet, but it is moving in the right direction and it’s taking this subject seriously, which is crucial.

With such a large skills gap, what can employers do to find the best people?

Give to get back – especially regarding early talent. Poaching talent from your competition may help you, but it doesn’t help the industry. Employers investing in early talent programmes, supporting local schools and colleges, partnering with universities, and opening their doors to academia are all key to increasing young and diverse talent in our industry. Manufacturing needs to make itself as attractive and accessible as possible to early and diverse talent.

At Michael Page Manufacturing, diverse hiring and inclusive recruitment practices are top priorities, both for our candidate sourcing and the work we do with clients. At The Manufacturer MX (TMMX) Awards, we will be sponsoring the People & Skills category and judging the Sustainable Manufacturing category.

For an introductory conversation about your hiring needs or career aspirations, please get in touch: Joe Walton, Director, Michael Page Manufacturing.