Manufacturing industry spotlight 2024: future of the workforce

Posted on 14 Feb 2024 by The Manufacturer

Manufacturing companies are constantly evolving to take advantage of new technology, shifts in best practice, and wider business trends. Those that do not keep up with the rapid pace of change could find themselves left behind and struggling to compete with forward-thinking rivals.

Ensuring your business has the skills it needs is one of the most important factors in ongoing success – and it is not only technical skills that are needed. Some of Michael Page’s expert recruiters recently hosted a panel at the recent Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit, where participants were keen to point out that management and leadership skills will be critical for retention in the face of a rapidly shrinking talent pool.

Overall, the issues senior leaders were most concerned about were:

The ever-growing crossover between process and product

The increasing pace of product development was one of the trends business leaders said they are most concerned with. The pressure that stems from growing expectations for faster delivery, whilst maintaining the same high-quality outputs, means that businesses need to think about their processes – including how different areas of the business work together.

Businesses will need to develop more efficient ways of working interlinking roles across the organisation especially targeting the link between product and process engineering. This means that engineers across different manufacturing functions will need to have a more detailed understanding of the roles everyone plays in the process, and their differing priorities, so that they can work together more smoothly.

Striking a balance between knowledge and skills

As a leader, it is important to think about how you balance product and process knowledge with technical skill sets to ensure that you get the best of both.

While bringing in additional staff to address skills shortages is a good option, the demand in the market currently means that it could take time to find the right candidate. Consistently identifying latent potential in the existing workforce and building skills amongst enthusiastic employees can help to address your skills shortages – with the added benefit of them already knowing the business.

Your more experienced employees will have a wealth of product and process knowledge, too, and investing in upskilling their technical skills can help bring the balance you need to speed up, improve, and streamline the manufacturing process. And with 33% of respondents surveyed in our recent research citing they would look to move jobs to develop their skills, it’s clear that investing in talent also helps with retention, preventing your most experienced employees heading off to share their knowledge with competitors.

Electrification and digitalisation in manufacturing will provide options to change the traditional footprint and role profiles of most manufacturing operations. This will present an opportunity to combine product knowledge and improved technical skill sets, futureproofing the business.

What can manufacturers do to help junior employees become work ready?

One of the other issues raised during the roundtable was the work-readiness of those entering the workforce. They may come from a technical education background, but leaders and managers will need excellent soft skills to ensure that they are set on the path to success.

According to Michael Page’s sector research, two in five (38%) employees in the sector believe their employer should offer more training opportunities, and 31% are not currently satisfied with the training opportunities provided by their employer. To ensure that all employees are ready for work – with the skills that are difficult to come by – employers should consider working more closely with education and training providers on their syllabuses and selection criteria.

Enhancing opportunities for on-the-job learning is through a broad and all-encompassing plan to introduce them to the business and the world of working more generally can also help ensure a smoother transition between education and the workplace, helping new employees to learn and grow as quickly as possible.

Every worker has a different style, and leaders need to be flexible to make sure new employees feel supported and stand the best chance at succeeding. This means training leaders in different styles and setting out clearer expectations, so they know how to get the best out of the new talent entering the business.

With so many cultural changes over the last decade, stronger employers will consider their expectations of new starters especially regarding the time it takes for them to properly integrate into the operation.

Strengthening the employer value proposition

As well as the technical elements of the job, employers need to consider their employer value proposition. Offering the right salaries – indications of which can be found in our 2024 Manufacturing Salary Guide – is one thing, but the pastoral elements are just as important for new joiners. Your onboarding programme, training opportunities and company culture all matter.

With many candidates and employees valuing flexibility, employers could consider adding flexible and hybrid working opportunities, but it needs to work for your business. Working from home is not right in all cases – particularly in the traditionally hands-on manufacturing sector – but by championing the team and ensuring people interaction aspects are in place we can appeal to a candidate pool motivated by social interaction and being part of high performing culture.

Our manufacturing experts are here to help you find the right talent, identify skills requirements, and advise on how best to attract and retain staff. If you would like to learn more or you’re looking to hire reach out to the Michael Page team.

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