How gender parity could be a key turning point for the manufacturing talent shortage

Posted on 30 Jan 2023 by The Manufacturer

Against the backdrop of a severe skills shortage, manufacturers need to address the issue of gender disparity if they want to attract and retain the talent they so badly need, according to a new whitepaper by MSP.

One of the fiercest challenges the manufacturing industry faces this year is the ever-widening skills shortage and talent crisis, which is costing the UK an estimated £7bn in lost economic output, the equivalent of around £21m per day lost in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 

The latest ONS figures place manufacturing vacancies at 84,000 between September and November 2022, a concerningly sharp incline from the relatively low position of 42,000 from the same period in 2020.

To combat the rise in vacancies, the industry must increasingly look to attract and retain talent, yet research found that only one in three manufacturing professionals was female in 2020, with ONS statistics indicating a continued broad gender split where women made up less than a quarter of the manufacturing workforce in 2021. 

As a result, leading manufacturing MSP has produced a new whitepaper on Women in Manufacturing, which reviews the industry’s shortcomings in attracting and retaining female talent, discovering it is a result of continued under-representation and concerning disparities found between genders from education to career.

This has led to training opportunities and career progression within the manufacturing industry being perceived as invisible, unequal, and ineffective, creating continued barriers to entry into a manufacturing career.   

Manufacturers need to address the issue of gender disparity if they want to attract and retain the talent they so badly need

Neil Matthews, Managing Director, says: “The manufacturing industry is an essential fixture in the UK economy, but this continued struggle to attract and retain talent is extremely concerning and damaging to the industry and its future.”

“Our new white paper examines the clear disparity in the progression and support of women in the manufacturing industry, which is by far not a new problem for the industry. Yet, it is more apparent than ever that we need to draw attention to this issue and employ effective solutions across the industry as a whole.”

Indeed, current broad-based programmes and opportunities in place have not effectively been reaching the right people, nor have they been encouraging steady progression in gender equity and diversity within the sector.

Concerningly, this issue continued to be prominent in the 2022 A-Level results, with only 31.5% of females entered in for STEM subjects, and females accounting for 15% of starts in STEM apprenticeships in the 2020/2021 period. 

Research by IBM found that only one in four organisations make the advancement of women a top 10 priority, despite also finding that organisations with gender parity as a strategy have a more successful business model and consistently outperform competitors in innovation, revenue growth, and customer and employee satisfaction. 

This is supported by further research, which suggested that every 10% increase in gender diversity among organisations can lead to operating profit increasing by 3.5%.  

Emily Smith, Senior Sales Engineer, continues: “Some organisations within the industry are taking the right steps to achieve gender parity and encourage equal training and progression opportunities. However, manufacturing sectors need to work together as a whole in order to make progressive change.”

“To attract and retain talent, organisations need to be increasing the visibility of female leaders and promoting gender inclusivity across all levels of the organisation, particularly to create supportive and inclusive environments where females feel encouraged and supported to work.” 

Further solutions outlined in the white paper gear more towards opening the doors early in stem careers, by encouraging and enhancing opportunities for females through apprenticeship schemes in prominent companies. 

Emily says: “Apprenticeship schemes are a fantastic way to open doors early for women at the start of their stem careers, as well as involve organisations in a progressive change towards gender parity.” 

“We are proud at MSP to be able to offer prospective engineers comprehensive apprenticeship schemes and clear mentorships, with 50% of our current apprentices female. However, we recognise the work that still needs to be done within the industry overall in order to tackle the talent shortages and open up inviting employment opportunities.”

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