What will the workforce of the future look like?

Skills and talent development is truly one of the great challenges of our time, particularly for industrial businesses. One question cuts right to the heart of the issue: how can organisations recruit, retain and champion the skills and people of tomorrow, when it is so difficult to know what and who they are? Maddy White reports.

Manufacturers need to recruit, develop and retain the right skills.
Manufacturers need to recruit, develop and retain the right skills.

Industrial digitalisation is happening at a record pace, yet the UK is losing out on a potential £63bn a year due to unfilled digital job roles.

Now, more than ever, manufacturers need to recruit, develop and retain the right skills to secure their ability to remain globally competitive and innovative.

That is by no means an easy feat. To forge a workforce suitable and flexible enough to accommodate the rapidly changing needs of industry, businesses must understand who the workforce of tomorrow will be and how best to attract, encourage and engage these individuals.

The Manufacturer’s latest Directors’ Forum Dinner, co-hosted in London with Dassault Systèmes, brought together a select group of manufacturing leaders representing a broad cross-section of businesses to explore this conundrum.

Who are the workforce of tomorrow?

The evening kicked off with Severine Trouillet, Global Affairs Director EuroNorth at Dassault Systèmes, discussing the need for companies to be attractive and adapt to the requirements of new recruits.  

Trouillet said: “Manufacturers are now competing against many other STEM businesses for the best talent. Recent research indicates that only 6% of young people said they would consider working in manufacturing; very sobering figures. If we are to acquire and retain the best talent, we need to make companies more attractive to millennials and ‘Generation X’.” 

What does the workforce of tomorrow look like? Are they cross-sector recruits with transferable skills; young people straight out of school; are they the current manufacturing workforce who can be upskilled; or is it a mix of all of these?

CROP - Happy multicultural teens sitting on sofa with digital devices - Generation Z Young People Skills - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Only 6% of young people said they would consider working in manufacturing – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Despite differing opinions expressed from attendees, they were unanimous that whoever they are, they need to be motivated and engaged to fully embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or as some have described it, the ‘Industry Renaissance’.

One guest commented, “We need more innovative ways of encouraging, developing and providing for employees. Historically, people may have been happy to have a 25+ year career at one business, but times have changed. They now want to know what they are going to achieve in this time, and we need to rise to that challenge.”

Another guest described how the practice of ‘job hopping’ seems to be far more prevalent, and shows no sign of diminishing in the near future.

An engineering integration manager at a global business, added, “We need to inspire the youngest ones and upskill the older employees. The pattern I have recognised most in the past five years is that if you don’t engage with teachers or parents to encourage young people, it’s difficult to change mindsets later. We visit and educate groups of children for an hour a month, whereas teachers and parents see them all the time.”

The Manufacturer Directors’ Forum dinners are exclusive, invitation-only events for senior manufacturing executives.

They are an opportunity to discuss vital issues of importance to our sector in a collegial and confidential environment. If you would like to attend or host one, please contact: [email protected]

How is the skills gap detrimental to innovation?

The discussion moved on to consider how the skills gap could obstruct innovation – something that plays a critical role in driving business growth and competitive advantage. Dinner guests agreed that the solution lay in recruiting and retaining the necessary skills that will propel growth, but that such a solution looked different for every business.

One guest highlighted what his company was doing to counter the threat. He said, “What we have tried to do is change people’s perceptions of what manufacturing is and what careers in industry offer.

“We have built an academy for skills and knowledge – an advanced training centre for apprentices and graduates – in order to demonstrate the fantastic opportunities manufacturing careers hold.”

The room heard that despite the huge emphasis placed on technology, the secret to innovation and maximising gains will always be people. “Technology is and should always be a tool, rather than the sole focus,” noted one guest.

Culture and collaboration 

The evening’s discussion concluded with an exploration of how driving a change-positive culture internally will be crucial to solving the skills issues.

Someone representing a global aerospace manufacturer said, “It doesn’t matter which industry you work in: aerospace, automotive, pharma, food and drink – the challenge is the same. Every 10 years we refresh our manufacturing strategy, we talk about technology, supply chains, factory systems, and much more, but the thing that underlines all of it is the culture of our people.”

Group of business people assembling jigsaw puzzle - What support are UK manufacturers asking for - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Culture and collaboration will boost businesses – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

The importance of fostering greater collaboration and sharing best practice within and across sectors was also emphasised, with the key challenge being the successful implementation of the innovative solutions seen within other industries. How can leaders create constructive mechanisms for cohesive and innovative ways of working in areas that will benefit manufacturing as a whole?

An engineering director at an international manufacturer said, “Collaboration is vital: it is about how we can all work together more effectively.”

Stressing the importance of considering the workforce as life-long learners, Dassault Systèmes’ Trouillet asked, “How can individuals contribute to knowledge-sharing within their own organisation and more broadly across industry, so that both continue to expand?’

For businesses to recruit, retain and develop the skills of tomorrow, it is essential they work collaboratively across sectors. Most businesses face the same challenges, and between them they have the means to find the solutions.

Collaboration needs to be fostered, teachers and parents need to be informed, and the development of individuals and businesses’ internal people culture needs to take priority. Only when this happens can the workforce of tomorrow begin to be built and championed and can manufacturing fully embrace its business transformation through digital technologies.