An interactive workshop at this year’s Make UK (formerly EEF) National Manufacturing Conference allowed industrial employers to speak to apprentices and graduates to learn how to attract the next generation into their business.
Skills and recruitment represent the most pressing item on most manufacturer’s agenda. We effectively lost a generation of manufacturers after the deindustrialisation of the 1970s and 80s, driven in large part by successive governments fixation on services, particularly finance.
As a result, almost two-thirds of manufacturers today believe that government is sending out mixed messages about dealing with the skills gap, and the same amount feel the British public doesn’t understand the importance of manufacturing to the economy (according to the Annual Manufacturing Report 2019).
One of the challenges manufacturers face is how to effectively engage with, attract and retain the next generation of talent. It’s something they need to get grips with swiftly as highly knowledgeable and skilled employees retire and/or move on.
The workshop allowed clusters of delegates to create, pitch and test ideas with young people from a range of different backgrounds, companies and universities, and share their top tips and best practice of how to create a successful campaign strategy.
‘Grow our Own’
The session was chaired by Peter Tack, managing director of major Tier 1 supplier Lander Automotive. His Birmingham-based business has been recruiting apprentices for more than 40 years and in 2015 made a conscious decision to recruit apprentices into other areas of the business, including sales, purchasing and logistics.
Under its banner of ‘Grow our Own’, Lander recruits 15 apprentices every eight weeks – with more than 50 currently active on site. So far, since July 2016, the business has recruited 60 apprentices, and aims to recruit a further 120 over the coming 18 months – an equivalent increase in apprentices on site of more than 400%.
“Investment in skills is critical to our business to reduce the skills gap we may have in the future,” said Tack. “There is currently an annual shortfall of around 20,000 qualified engineers in the UK. Our apprenticeship programme is enabling us to reduce our reliance on external recruitment for the majority of roles that do arise.”
What attracts young people to manufacturing and engineering?
My cluster was overseen by a PhD student researching training under-investment in automotive and aerospace, and an apprentice from MBDA.
The apprentice cited working in an environment which actively promoted creativity and the opportunity to produce physical, tangible products as being major draws behind his decision to pursue that route while almost all his friends opted for university.
The group agreed that a career in manufacturing or engineering opens many doors for further progression, imparting many transferable and desirable skills. The same fluidity couldn’t be ascribed to many other careers which have a tendency to pigeon hole individuals.
According to the young people in the room, salary was a factor in their choice of career and role, but not a primary driver. Instead, they were motivated by problem solving, being responsible for delivering a project or initiative, doing something practical/physical, and not being burdened with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt at the start of their professional lives.
One apprentice cut through the discussion with a fascinating insight:
- Graduates are encouraged and trained to be the best that they can be
- Apprentices are encouraged and trained to make the business the best it can be (thanks to the strong focus on teamwork and relationships)
You’d be hard pressed to find a better demonstration of the astute nature of young people today.
Manufacturing a new image
One delegate commented that America, in particular, has successfully pivoted away from using the term ‘manufacturing’ (which denotes factories and mass production) towards communities of ‘makers’ – promoting a more artisan, creative image which resonates more strongly with young people. Could a similar rebrand pay dividends in the UK?
Regardless of the terminology employed, promoting the virtues of one industry over any other is becoming an increasingly noisy, overwhelming space – with almost every sector believing theirs is the most important.
With businesses, government bodies, education providers and trade bodies all leveraging social media and digital communication channels to promote the opportunities they believe only they provide to the next generation, the landscape is only going to become noisier.
Such a situation requires cut through. How can manufacturing and engineering businesses achieve that? By creating engaging, informal, succinct messages that align the opportunities available with what young people are seeking/demanding.
Young people are a ‘visual generation’, so video is likely the ideal medium to share such messages across a multitude of platforms. One delegate suggested emulating the approach taken by the UK Army in their 2019 recruitment campaign, which has taken a similar tack: