Just 6% of UK 16-23 year-olds considering careers in manufacturing

Posted on 5 Dec 2018 by Jonny Williamson

A career in manufacturing is failing to appeal to the next generation of workers, with only 3% of young women contemplating a job in industry, according to a major new report.

Barclays Corporate Banking Manufacturing report, A New Image for Manufacturing 2018 - Impact of Skills Deficit - Careers in ManufacturingWith more than half of UK manufacturing businesses (52%) are finding it difficult to recruit new employees, the paltry 6% of ‘Generation Z’ (16-23 year-olds) considering careers in manufacturing is worrying.

Almost half (47%) state that manufacturing doesn’t appeal to them, with many young people displaying misconceptions around the skills that workers can develop – only one third (33%) of young people believe a career in manufacturing will provide them with advanced technology skills.

Instead, young people aspire towards careers in digital, technology and IT, with manufacturing ranking only 17th out of 19 potential career paths.

Considering the huge technological change manufacturing businesses have undergone over the past five years, it remains clear that despite all our talk of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, the core message is failing to go beyond the four walls of industry.

Furthermore, when asked about what they want from their future career, young people say that the opportunity to constantly build their skills (40%) is one of their top priorities.

Again, despite a career in manufacturing fulfilling exactly these future job aspirations, young people are unaware of the opportunities that the sector provides.

The new Barclays Corporate Banking Manufacturing report, A New Image for Manufacturing, surveyed 2,000 16-23 year olds to understand how perceptions of manufacturing have changed, and 500 manufacturing decision-makers to reveal what businesses have been doing to recruit new employees, and upskill their existing workforce to use new technologies.

The skills most in demand from young people are exactly the same as those that young people want to attain:  decision-making skills, social skills, resource management skills, complex problem-solving, and technical skills.

The challenge of attracting talent

Many manufactures recognise that there is a perception barrier to recruitment. Almost two-fifths (39%) of the businesses surveyed admit that perceptions of careers in manufacturing have become worse over the past 20 years.

In particular, the research reveals that industry is struggling to attract a diverse workforce, with just 3% of young women stating they would contemplate a career in manufacturing, compared to 9% of young men.  According to the OECD, women in G20 countries account for only one in four university graduates in the STEM based subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths.

Helena Sans, head of manufacturing at Barclays, commented: “Transforming outdated perceptions of manufacturing isn’t an easy feat, as stereotypes are hard to break, but the potential gains that come with a re-invigorated workforce and a new wave of talent in the industry, offer a tangible return on this investment.

Sans noted: “Raising a generation from early years to graduation is a 20-year process. In order to have an impact by 2050, manufacturers need to find ways to educate and influence the next generation now or face another 20 years or so grappling against these skills challenges. One solution is to focus on appealing to women as well as men as it’s clear that there is currently a huge gender gap in perceptions of the manufacturing industry.” 

Manufacturers are facing a skill gap 

Barclays Corporate Banking Manufacturing report, A New Image for Manufacturing 2018 - Economic Growth from Recruitment - Careers in ManufacturingManufacturers have tried a variety of strategies to overcome recruitment challenges in the past five years, including launching apprenticeship schemes (28%), forging partnerships with universities (19%) and further education colleges (15%) as well as marketing on social media (27%).

Yet many manufacturers are finding it difficult to recruit, not only among young people but also with experienced workers.

Despite many businesses (35%) receiving an overflow of applications, the candidates applying do not have the right skills for the job, with over a third (36%) of manufacturers reporting that applicants lack knowledge in the STEM based subjects.

Although, one in five of manufacturing businesses (21%) say they are already seeing workforce morale dip and more than a third (36%) have noted a strain on their existing workforce due to a lack of new recruits, a quarter (25%) of businesses don’t plan to change their recruitment strategies or invest more in recruitment.

Economic modelling undertaken by Barclays for this report concludes that manufacturers could add an extra £6.1bn to the UK economy per annum by 2023 by investing more in recruitment drives such as apprenticeship programmes, graduate recruitment strategies and collaborations with Universities or other institutions.

Currently, however, only 11% of firms surveyed have plans to promote the benefits of careers in manufacturing over the next five years.