Making UK manufacturing great again

Posted on 3 Jan 2017 by The Manufacturer

Is the time right for a UK Manufacturing Day to help focus more attention on the skills gap? Absolutely, says Kronos UK’s Rob Hiron.

Industry 4.0 is undoubtedly a hot topic in the UK manufacturing world and a massive opportunity. But it comes with some additional challenges. The urgency with which we need to fill the skills gap is only going to become greater as we face up to a ‘a silver tsunami’ as the baby boom generation starts retiring in ever increasing numbers.

Rob Hiron, Kronos UK.
Rob Hiron, Kronos UK.

Couple that with the lack of young people leaving school with the right STEM qualifications and it’s clear there’s a growing skills gap that needs to be addressed.

The most recent UK Commission for Employment and Skills survey indicated that hard to fill vacancies in manufacturing sat at 35% and it’s this skills mismatch that’s reducing the sector’s ability to respond to market demand and stay ahead of the competition. It’s putting overall manufacturing productivity at risk, while also negatively impacting the workload and stress of those working on the shopfloor.

Combined with recent reports and articles from other institutions, including EEF and McKinsey, it’s clear that the skills gap is real – and if left unchanged will have an adverse effect on UK manufacturing’s ability to compete and grow in an increasingly competitive, global market.

While some of the answer lies in working harder to retrain and upskill the existing workforce, there is also a need for the industry to come together to better showcase what modern manufacturing has to offer. There needs to be a greater focus on changing young people’s view of manufacturing as an old school dingy, 1950s shopfloor and not the modern, automated infrastructure that actually exists today.

Perhaps the time is right to take a leaf from our US colleagues and work to develop our own Manufacturing Day. The annual event, held on October 7, is designed to shine a light on the industry as a whole and highlight its many attributes as factories open their doors to schools to demonstrate the possibilities manufacturing holds for today’s young people.

At the same time, it seeks to address and overcome the common misconception that still plagues the industry: the widespread view that manufacturing is not a desirable industry to work in.

For UK manufacturing, that spotlight on the industry is important as it’s clearly not well understood by the general public or the education system. It’s crucial that we do better at highlighting the potential career opportunities available to schools and career advisory services to ensure that children understand how to make manufacturing a viable career path.

BLOODHOUND microbit rocket car
To date, over 6,000 UK schools use Bloodhound technical content in lessons, supported by 1,000 Bloodhound ambassadors who visit schools around the UK – image courtesy of Bloodhound.

A recent Mckinsey report reinforced that point as only 26% of UK secondary school graduates knew which disciplines led to strong job prospects when beginning to study at university, compared with 42% in Germany.

A dedicated Manufacturing Day would provide manufacturers with a platform to host students, teachers, parents, job seekers and anyone else interested in learning more about modern manufacturing technology and the many fulfilling jobs that await.

As an industry, we need to build on the great strides organisations like Teentech made to engage children from an early age in the opportunities that STEM subjects have to offer. Or to capitalise on the publicity that initiatives such as the Bloodhound Project are currently getting in the media as a great example of what modern manufacturing and engineering can offer. These projects help highlight how exciting a career in manufacturing can be.

Help for a vital industry

When you consider that manufacturing touches every aspect of our lives – everything from food to medicine to clothing and much more, it’s imperative for manufacturers to do all they can to narrow the skills gap.

Industry 4.0 offers a tremendous opportunity to everyone involved in UK manufacturing to change the image of industry within the UK. We need to work to publicise and engage with the next generation of employees now to ensure we can attract and retain a new cohort of skilled workers capable of helping UK manufacturing grow, compete, and achieve better business results – now and into the future.

Let’s work together to really promote the opportunities UK manufacturing has to offer.

Unlock the human impact of Industry 4.0

Kronos UK has organised an exclusive networking event taking place at the heart of the Bloodhound SSC Project in Bristol on Thursday January 19.

Manufacturers continue to focus on the technology element of Industry 4.0, but are they paying equal attention to their most valuable and visible manufacturing asset – the workforce?

Join Nick Peters, Editorial Director of The Manufacturer Magazine and Kylene Zenk, Director Manufacturing Industry at Kronos, alongside industry peers, and learn how manufacturers are using employee engagement, skills utilisation and labour data to optimise their business performance and help in driving UK competitiveness.

Click here to register for the event, or to find out more information.