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Defeating the skills challenge - Recruitment, Retention & Employee Engagement in UK Manufacturing

According to government statistics collated by EEF - the UK’s manufacturing employers’ organisation, the UK’s 130,000 manufacturing businesses currently employ 2.7 million people, whose collective efforts contribute 10% of the country’s Gross Value Added (GVA), making the UK the world’s ninth largest manufacturing nation.

However, the statistic conceals a host of issues that are making the human workforce one of the most interesting, compelling, and challenging issues facing the UK’s manufacturing sector today.

The report found there was an increase in the factors affecting the recruitment landscape which were having an impact on the businesses' ability to grow. These included:

  • The inability to be flexible, to adapt resources on an immediate need basis
  • New technology creating the need for a new way of working
  • Lack of effective communication between operational managers and employees
  • The need to better meet employees’ work-life balance needs
  • Increased employee absence 
  • Inadequate workforce management technology
  • Inability to be able to manage and be flexible

Redline Group’s Manufacturing and Operations division has been at the sharp end of professional recruitment for 35 years and its specialist team is headed by industry qualified manufacturing specialist Rachael Palmer. We asked Rachael her views on the findings from the Employee Engagement Report and their views on what manufacturing companies could be doing to strategically improve recruitment & retention, and what should be done to close the skills gap in the manufacturing industry.

Rachael comments: “Our clients tend to say people are their most important asset, even though it sounds a bit trite, it is very true. The most common factor amongst the majority of our clients is the disruptions which hold back the company’s growth associated with recruiting and retaining staff. Manufacturers need to embrace recruitment and retention challenges with strategies aimed at making themselves more attractive to employees including greater opportunities for career progression. Offering better-than-average pay is essential, but not the only course of action. Using a flat organisational structure and improving employee engagement stratagems is also common amongst manufacturing companies.”

Rachael continues: “There is a shortage of people with engineering and scientific skills and they are not always at graduate level. Manufacturing companies should consider people with A Levels or similar qualifications and train them while also providing them with real life industry experience. It’s a way of reverting to the traditional approach to educating people for the manufacturing industry, which has worked for generations. This will not only create more skilled people, but it will also enhance the future manufacturing managerial and senior candidate skill sets.”

The report also explored which skills were the most difficult to recruit and retain in the manufacturing industry. Almost two-thirds of respondents (61%) said Engineers, well ahead of all other skill categories, with design engineers and software engineers the most serious recruitment and retention challenges. Overall, the conclusion was clear that sourcing ‘hard’ technically-driven skillsets is a real difficulty for manufacturing businesses, far more so than sourcing softer skills.

Rachael Palmer, Redline’s Manufacturing and Operations Manager comments: “Dealing with recruitment and retention challenges is made even more difficult by a ‘lopsided’ workforce demographic. Today, the majority of the manufacturing workforce in the UK is clearly skewed to the more experienced worker: the report clearly found that their workforce has an average age of 40 and above. This is why several manufacturers are facing the prospect of a significant proportion of their current employees reaching retirement age within the next ten years. As the workforce ages, preserving great staff becomes not just difficult, it becomes impossible, as the experienced ones retire. This highlights the urgency for manufacturing owners and leaders to implement a comprehensive strategy that not only addresses how to hold onto good employees but also how to find skilled new people, rapidly. Employee engagement must be a part of the recruitment strategy to ensure employee expectations are met.” says Rachael.

Rachael continues: “Manufacturers must respond to the recruitment and retention challenges by attempting to bring earlier career-stage, less experienced or less skilled workers into their factories and offer on the job training. Today new talent expect companies to be socially aware, and also socially responsible. They want to feel that they are working for a manufacturing organisation that is making a genuine difference, not just in terms of a general approach to sustainability, for example, but also people, and how it interacts with its immediate community. There should be a clear strategy for attracting skilled recruits and also retaining/developing those skilled employees that you already have.This could include:

  • Opportunities for career progression
  • In house training
  • Improved employee engagement / creative HR strategies
  • Better than average pay
  • Flexible working opportunities
  • Informal working environments 
  • Flat organisational structure (reduced hierarchy or less formal hierarchy)
  • Sponsored academic courses

If you are a candidate and want to find out more about manufacturing jobs and careers in manufacturing and operations, or to see our latest job opportunities, such as quality engineer jobs please click here or alternatively contact Rachael Palmer on 01582 878847 or email 



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