Don’t assume, don’t patronise and do simply show yourselves!

Posted on 20 Jul 2012 by Hazel Jeffs

Bringing fresh eyes to the manufacturing image debate, Hazel Jeffs, a 17-year old taking work experience with TM, urges industry not to patronise its next generation recruits.

Hazel Jeffs, Exmouth Community College student on work experience with The Manufacturer

The Manufacturer took me on for a week of work experience since I enjoy writing and would like to take an English course at university, but when I arrived here on Monday I was basically clueless about the topics that the magazine would address and even what ‘manufacturing’ meant as a subject or discipline.

With this in mind, it came as quite a shock to discover that the manufacturing industry has apparently been trying hard to get the attention of young people for the past few years – indeed that this is one of challenges TM covers most frequently and which businesses and government are pouring all sorts of resources into.

Personally I have never knowingly taken any subjects which would support or recommend me on a manufacturing career path. But considering how much time and effort you, as an industry, seem to be putting in to raise awareness, and how often I have heard this week that manufacturing offers diverse opportunities for people outside pure engineering roles, it’s quite incredible that I never heard anything about the possible application of my subjects in manufacturing.

This week I have been given background reading and been asked to edit a number of press releases relating to initiatives for getting young people into manufacturing.

In reading these I have been surprised by the focus which is put on preconceptions and the strongly held belief that young people all think manufacturing is “boring” or that the reason we’re not taking on apprenticeships or science/maths based subjects is because we’re all part of the ‘X Factor Generation’ that expects to make no practical choices for years and then walk into a dream job.

In making these assumptions it is industry which is holding preconceptions about us and essentially missing the point!

The problem is not so much that engineering, for example, is thought of as a dull job as that, although younger children do tend to want to grow up to make cars or planes or spaceships, there’s never really anyone around who we know who has done that. So this ambition is normally replaced by a choice of career that we see more of in the world – that feels more real, like a teacher, doctor or shop manager.

These options feel safe – and even for bigger risk takers, careers like acting and freelance photography seem accessible because we are exposed to them a lot.

All we see about manufacturing, apart from the occasional school visit to a factory, is out of date pictures of thousands of minions on sewing machines or similar, working for a presumably pitiful wage, supplemented with vague memories of Come Outside and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Unless a member of your family is in something manufacturing related and likes it, odds are it won’t even be thought of as an option.

And so raising the profile of manufacturing jobs is undoubtedly a good idea.

Furthermore, once you’ve been hooked the resources seem good. The trouble is that some of the approaches organisations take to talking about career prospects aren’t the best.

For instance, obviously many manufacturing and related jobs are interesting in their way. But talking about them with language like “the exciting world of finance and logistics” seems patronising at best.

This kind of tone seems to be carried through quite a lot of the events and resources that are being organised, and frankly it just seems insincere and only allows for a reader to absolutely agree or disagree, not think for themselves or explore the “whys”.

What seems to work best is when you go into schools and help pupils with activities. This way they learn about and participate in things they could do in manufacturing but can match this directly to the day to day demands of school and passing the exams which are pushed as a priority all the time.

This route can capture student’s imaginations and help them think about the future while not feeling like a distraction from more immediate expectations and ambitions. The last few years of school can be very stressful for those who want to concentrate on getting good results but are also thinking desperately about what on earth they want to do with their lives. Bringing the two together would be helpful.

In conclusion, if you want to get younger people into manufacturing then please don’t assume that we are not bothered, don’t patronise us by using flamboyant language to oversell mundane aspects, and do continue to make the industry far more visible than it currently is to the huge majority of us.