Will a lack of future talent hamper manufacturing growth?

Is there a conflict between a business investing for growth while simultaneously facing a skills dilemma? And if there is, what can be done about it? Mike Rigby - head of Manufacturing, Transport and Logistics at Barclays - reports.

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Inspiring the next generation of designers, engineers and makers is of paramount importance, but it can’t be the nation’s sole focus.

In its latest State of Engineering report, Engineering UK forecasts an annual shortfall of 20,000 engineers. That’s a conservative estimate, the report states, particularly regarding higher-level skills.

There are several factors contributing to the UK’s chronic shortage of skills: years of offshoring production resulting in the loss of specialist know-how, a shift in national focus from vocational training to University degrees, and continued misperceptions regarding the well-paid and rewarding roles manufacturing and engineering careers offer.

Equally detrimental has been the almost constant change to academic qualifications and frameworks.

Nearly 30 skills reforms in as many years have “alienated businesses, confused learning providers and failed to deliver the skills the country requires.” That’s the rather damning conclusion of a January 2018 report by UK business group, the CBI, into the delivery of skills in England.

Inspiring the next generation of designers, engineers and makers is of paramount importance, but it can’t be the nation’s sole focus as two-thirds of the workforce of 2030 has already left full-time education. That means we need to place far greater emphasis on upskilling, retraining and lifelong learning in the truest sense.

I know of several businesses which have adopted innovative approaches to employee development, including taking imminent retirees ‘off timetable’ for the last 24 months of their career to share their vast knowledge through mentorship and development programmes, adopting Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs), and embracing flexible working practices to offer staff time to retrain,

Clearly, pockets of excellence exist, but we need a more joined up and widespread approach, and businesses can’t rest on their laurels.

Manufacturing, like every other sector, operates within a rapidly changing skills landscape. Digital skills have risen in prominence, as has the need for qualified data scientists, adoption or implementation managers, and operational or technologists – the modern evolution of automation engineers.

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Two-thirds of the workforce of 2030 has already left full-time education.

Yet, against that challenging backdrop, UK manufacturers are surprisingly upbeat. Galvanised by strong domestic and global demand, the majority of executives are confident regarding the short and long-term prospects for the sector, as reflected in several studies over the past six months.

Therein lies the sticking point

Output is rising, order books are the strongest in recent memory, capital investments are on the increase, ‘Made in Great Britain’ is once again seen as a badge of quality, and we finally have an Industrial Strategy (in principle, if nothing else).

In short, UK manufacturers have an unparalleled opportunity to reassert themselves on the world stage.

However, is there a conflict between a business investing for growth while simultaneously facing a skills dilemma? And if there is, what can be done about?

These are difficult questions, and I can’t pretend to know the answers. In my mind, there are three inter-related things to consider: the perception of manufacturing, the introduction of T-levels, and investment in automation.

Perception of manufacturing

It will be challenging for the nation to achieve a true appreciation and understanding of manufacturing and engineering while pervasive misperceptions persist. As industrial business owners, engineers and supporters, we have a responsibility to challenge these perceptions and promote the true image, one which is a far cry from the dark, dangerous and dirty stereotype.

The Manufacturer has published a useful ‘mythbusting guide’ to help in that regard.

Introduction of T-levels

First proposed in 2016, the introduction of T-levels aims to address the current perceived disparity between academic and vocational education. Under the proposals, 16-19-year olds will be offered easier access to 15 different industries via technical (T) qualifications.

The content will be based on newly created standards developed by appointed panels of industry professionals and employers, ensuring the skills being developed are relevant, in demand and – to some extent – ‘future proof’.

The first three – Digital, Construction, and Education & Childcare – were announced in October 2017, and will be offered from September 2019. Every T-level is expected to be in place by September 2022, including an Engineering & Manufacturing pathway.

Automation investment

Changing societal perceptions and overhauling our education system are worthwhile endeavours, but will take time to achieve. With global competition rising and growth opportunities waiting to be capitalised on, UK businesses can’t afford to wait another five years.

Could automating some or all your non-value add, low-skilled processes simultaneously raise your productivity, allow your employees to upskill or retrain, and strengthen the reality of UK manufacturing as being a modern, hi-tech and rewarding sector to work in?

Further thought-leadership courtesy of Mike Rigby:

What does 2018 hold in store for UK maufacturing? – Several high-profile OEMs revealed major investments for the UK and its supply chain in 2017. Will the same hold true for 2018?

UK manufacturers must seize the opportunities of 4IR – 87% of UK manufacturing businesses express confidence for the future; but, why isn’t that confidence translating into greater capital investment?

Are UK manufacturers taking advantage of the opportunities? – is there still a lack of appetite for capital investments from UK manufacturers?

What role is the UK playing in Connected & Autonomous Vehicles? – lifting the lid on how the UK is driving the future of mobility.

Holidays are over, so what now for UK manufacturing? – a timely discussion on why the government’s long-awaited industrial strategy is of such vital importance.

Will manufacturing mirror what’s happening in logistics? – Confidence among logistics operators is higher than last year, with a sense of opportunity surrounding the growing impact of digital technology and data.