How Evolving Work Practices Can Reduce UK Manufacturing Skills Shortage

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PwC has released its annual Manufacturing Report 2018 and revealed 38% of UK CEOs find it difficult to attract the right kind of digital talent. The sector accounts for £186 billion of the UK’s total economic output or 10% of UK GDP, yet reports a skills shortage increase of 29% since 2013. In fact, Randstad shows the sector will need to employ 186,000 new engineers each year until 2024, a shortfall of 20,000 graduates each year. It is without doubt, a skills crisis unprecedented in history.

According to John Corven, Senior Value Proposition Consultant at Canon, part of the problem is the widely held view the manufacturing sector is low paying and lacking in creativity. He says, manufacturers must address this negative perception by creating a strong employee brand identity and experience. This would help attract more young talent and retain existing workers. It’s also important for the industry to keep evolving its work practices in line with the ever-evolving technology that is reshaping the future of manufacturing and its workforce.

The Need for Continuous Learning

In his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Klaus Schwab explores the forces destabilising the manufacturing sector: cyber-sensing machines, mobile computers, data collecting sensors and machine learning. This convergence of trends means workers will need to learn and adapt continuously. It will also result in one of the biggest social impacts of all: Empowerment. Specifically, how enterprises relate to their employees.

Employees: From Employee to Partner

Manufacturing companies traditionally employed long-term, full-time employees and gave them little autonomy. Workers in our current Industry 4.0 climate expect to feel empowered, developed and influential in their jobs. Barry Libert writes that organisations need to think of their workforce as partners in the work of customer value creation. Empowered workers think for themselves and contribute more to innovation.

Lack of Diversity Fueling Skills Gap

According to a major report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) published last year, the UK’s lack of diversity in engineering and the technical workforce could be fueling the chronic recruitment shortage.

The IET undertakes an annual survey of UK engineering employers to gauge the state of engineering and technology skills in the sector. The survey reports current and planned engineering recruitment, identifies skills shortages and skills gaps and explores issues around diversity in the workforce.

The majority (87%) of companies surveyed do not have LGBT/BAME diversity initiatives in place and only 15% make particular efforts to attract and retain women in engineering and technical roles. Just over one in ten (11%) of the UK engineering and technical workforce is female.

So how can manufacturing organisations evolve their work practices to help their employees learn continuously, feel empowered, contribute to innovation and support diversity?

Technology-enabled Learning and Development                                                                             

WERKIN’s technology-enabled mentoring platform enables team leaders to match mentees with mentors impartially, using everyday connected devices. The technology reduces bias in workplace processes like onboarding, learning and development, and promotion. Team members create digital profiles of their skills, experience and achievements. Leaders set learning and development goals. Algorithms match seasoned expertise with development needs and guide mentoring pairs through meetings and objectives. Team leaders can also assemble multi-disciplinary teams with complementary skills instantly.

Although manufacturers are laser focused on digitising their operations and processes, they must invest in talent strategies that attract, support and retain workers to drive the new business model. Modernising work practices by embedding learning and development in daily activities and supporting diversity will improve brand perception and employee experience in the sector. Investing in employee development, engagement and diversity is critical to the future of the UK manufacturing sector and the growth of the economy as a whole.