Navigating the skills gap with safety in mind

Posted on 1 Nov 2023 by The Manufacturer

Manufacturing companies are facing heightened pressure to fill skills gaps as quickly as possible. Here, Richard Stockley, Managing Director at expert H&S training provider RRC International, discusses the dangers of neglecting training in the rush for new talent.

It’s 2023 and the skills shortage shows no sign of slowing down.

At present, over 38,000 of the 91,682 vacancies in the manufacturing sector are due to skills shortages. This is a massive increase from 2017, where in comparison 16,000 vacancies were a knock-on effect of the skills gap. The manufacturing industry faces the challenge and demand of expanding and upskilling its workforce, and it may seem tempting to rush new talent into roles without offering comprehensive training.

With the manufacturing sector home to some of the most high-risk working environments, good health and safety training is more important than ever as workforces continue to be stretched thinner. In fact, the manufacturing sector accounts for 16% of reported injuries to employees in the UK.

With this in mind, filling the skills gap hastily can leave another gap open – one far more damaging to your workforce and your business. The cost of neglecting crucial workplace safety can result  in increased risk to your employees’ health, company fines and even jail time. Jarring legal cases of companies jeopardising employees’ health are in the news quite regularly. For example, a manufacturing company was prosecuted after a 17-year-old apprentice lost three fingers whilst working on an unguarded pillar drill and wearing gloves. In this case, the HSE investigation found the company had failed to provide suitable training to the apprentice.

Of course, it’s easy to think that this wouldn’t happen in your workplace and to your employees. However, failing to recognise the significance of these cases can leave you at risk of overlooking the  health and safety of your employees in the rush for talent. So, how can employers better protect their workforce while it is continuously growing?

Employee-centred training

The nature of manufacturing jobs and the fact that most of those employed stay till a late age means that employees need to refresh their skills. This isn’t news in the industry. In 2013, the U.K. Government published a future workforce report emphasising the sector’s need for continuing education and training. The need for training is only exacerbated by the dangerous nature of manufacturing work and the frequent advancements in equipment. In this same report, though, data showed that employees in manufacturing were less likely to report being in receipt of training than in other sectors.

It may seem attractive to opt for the cheapest training strategy and label it as an easy solution, but this isn’t always cost-effective in the long term. Training that doesn’t truly meet the needs of your employees can leave you financially vulnerable to costly mistakes and potential lawsuits. So, it’s crucial employees must not only be provided with comprehensive training, but training that’s delivered in a format that best meets their preferred learning style and work schedule.

One of the greatest barriers to learning is how challenging it is to schedule and complete. And with most manufacturers working at stations with heavy machinery, it could be challenging and unsafe to integrate online courses into their schedule. Training providers that offer in-company sessions can support in overcoming this barrier by scheduling training where time can be blocked out and cover arranged. Alternatively, flexible, self-paced courses allow employees to choose how and when they study, which can offer an ideal solution for those employees who work shift patterns or simply would rather learn at their own pace.

Whilst these methods may be preferred in the industry, they won’t suit every single employee. So, it’s important that you offer multiple training delivery forms and allow your employees to choose what best suits them – whether that’s online learning, traditional in-person classroom learning, or live online virtual learning.

A culture of continued learning

Since recovering from the global pandemic and the ‘Great Resignation’, more employees are concerned with the available training at their workplace and their future career path. In fact, learning opportunities have been cited in three of the top five reasons why people were looking for a new job.

An improved training programme can offer employees a chance to not only improve their skills for their current role, but better outline the required skills to progress in their career. If they wish to progress into a specialised role, such as a health and safety officer, they will have a better understanding of what is needed and access to relevant training. In this instance, competent health and safety training would need to be available to them.

Not only this, but employees who feel well equipped and trained to carry out their roles will be more confident, happy and feel genuinely valued by their employers. And happier employees are 13% more productive, meaning employees not only feel engaged and valued by their employer, but have higher levels of performance. A valued and happy workforce equals a safe workforce – a vital retention tool that should not be lost on employers.

Always prioritising safety

Skills gap or no skills gap, health and safety must remain a priority for the sector. Manufacturing companies should not be overlooking training, and instead view it as not only a way to improve safety, but as a key attraction and retention tool. Empowering employees with the necessary skills to carry out their roles creates a happier, more productive workforce.

View our available health and safety courses to find out how you can better protect your workforce.

About the author

Richard Stockley is the Managing Director of RRC International, the UK’s leading international provider of health & safety qualification training. Having worked at RRC for the past ten years, his strong background in learning technology software development has brought a wealth of experience to the business.