UK industry leader tells A-level students not to despair

With A-level results announced today, amid reports of unprecedented success, celebrations were dampened by the undertone of sorrow as some expectant graduates realised their dreams would not become a reality, however advice from one leading Yorkshire manufacturer could turn their troubles around.

As Britain’s manufacturing industry starts to show positive signs of recovery, growth is being hampered due to a national shortage of skills according to Graham Thompson – founder and managing director of workwear and sports clothing specialist, Xamax – but this threat is what he believes offers young people with a real opportunity.

Graham Thompson, founder and managing director, Xamax.
Graham Thompson, founder and managing director, Xamax.

Having worked in UK industry for more than 25 years, Graham has experienced first-hand the many challenges that have faced the sector, but he now believes that manufacturing has turned a corner.

He commented: “While the sector is expected to experience a boom in the next five years, with the creation of thousands of new jobs, the problem lies in attracting skilled staff to fill them.

“Confidence is definitely returning to manufacturing and companies are starting to be more positive about the economic outlook. Up until a few years ago, no one was willing to invest in the sector or focus on growth, however we have seen a noticeable increase more recently.

For those who have some common sense about them, they will recognise that this brings with it opportunity and possibility for college-aged students.

There is definitely scope for a manufacturing revival and people are looking to recruit skilled employees, but the hurdle we are presented with now is finding suitable young workers.

Would you like to discover ways in which your businesses can gain higher productivity by focusing on their workforce needs?

The Manufacturer’s National Skills Conference – in partnership with The Manufacturing Technology Centre – will provide a forum to discuss the skills issue currently affecting all aspects of British manufacturing.

This inaugural event offers the opportunity to make changes throughout industry and wider partners, exploring best practice methods and innovative thinking to promote building capacity to drive business performance.

15 – 16 October, 2015 : Antsy Park, Coventry

Manufacturing has not been a desirable career for young people, there’s a general misconception about the sector and they are not aware of the opportunities and career progression that is available to them.

Thompson isn’t the only one who sees this skills shortage as being the main challenge facing the sector.

Christian Warden, programme director for skills at EEF, recently said it was the single biggest issue facing the industry and went as far as to worn employers that it represents a ‘ticking time bomb.’

Thompson continued: “I agree wholeheartedly with the comments from the EEF. I think there’s an overall stigma about manufacturing in general.

“Manufacturing isn’t what it was 20 years ago but among young people there’s still this idea that it’s a greasy, dirty and dark profession of their grandparents generation. The truth is that this industry could be a lifeline and offer so many students real and lasting careers.

“The industry looks a lot different these days with robots doing most of the heavy lifting and powerful machines to help make jobs easier, as a result shop floors are now typically clean and tidy.

That image has not translated to the young people looking for jobs, with many thinking that manufacturing roles have disappeared, whereas what has actually happened is people have had to upskill.

More than 200 businesses have already registered to participate in the STEM Exchange.
Young people’s perception of manufacturing needs to be updated.

“We don’t see a lot of this knowledge being passed on with the reiteration of today’s advanced manufacturing careers to college aged students with many not even aware of what a modern factory looks like.

“We would advise that for those who think they are destined for poor paid work that they do their research and look to manufacturing for their next step onto the career ladder.

“As a business it is fundamental that we champion the industry and make young people aware of the jobs, careers and opportunities that are available to them. There are many skilled jobs within the sector and a real desire for new and innovative ideas, I can’t imagine a more exciting time to join the resurgence of manufacturing in the UK.”

As an example of the growth within the sector, Xamax is currently recruiting for five new apprentices and offers schemes where college leavers can develop the skills and experience necessary to establish a long-term career within the market.

Thompson admitted that companies are going to have to work hard to change the minds of the younger generation if the manufacturing recovery is to continue; noting that the ‘skills gap’ is clearly evident and getting larger by the day with workers ill-equipped to take the jobs available in industry, however it would be more accurate to call it an ‘interest gap’ if people do not feel compelled to supply demand.

He concluded: “The relatively low enthusiasm is down to a misplaced belief that the UK no longer has a strong manufacturing industry and that there aren’t jobs within the sector, but this is completely incorrect.

“There are plenty of opportunities available to the young, they just need a good old dose of grit and determination to go out there and grab them!”