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Innovation and Human Insight: Rise to the challenges of a manufacturing skills gap

04/06/18 Rachael Dent Manager, Electronics & Technology

There will be an estimated 3.5 million available manufacturing jobs by 2025. At a time of significant technological change, manufacturers are recognising the need to develop new strategies to recruit employees and upskill their current workforce. Yet achieving these goals is particularly tough, as tepid perceptions of the sector often lead top talent to resist careers in manufacturing and operations.

 The UK’s manufacturing industry is experiencing a radical transformation triggered by the onset of the fourth industrial revolution. Industry 4.0: is a new model for manufacturing, characterised by the increasing digitisation and interconnection of products, value chains and business models, supported and enabled by technologies including the Industrial Internet of Things, Artificial intelligence (AI), Robotics, and billions of connected devices and sensors.

A change on this scale brings major implications for the skills that companies will need. PwC’s 21st Global CEO Survey, launched in January 2018, found 69% of CEOs believe emerging technologies, such as AI, blockchain and robotics will disrupt their current business models in the next five years, and they will need to acquire both digital and other specialist skills to gain a competitive advantage.

The importance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills was also reflected in the Government’s new Industrial Strategy launched in November 2017, which pledged a £406 million funding boost for these skills. PwC’s Workforce of the Future research also confirmed this funding is much-needed, finding just 33% of UK workers believe they possess the required STEM skills, against a global average of 53%.

We spoke with Rachael Dent, Redline Manager, Manufacturing & Operations, on how manufacturing firms can better understand technology innovation and human insight to rise to the challenges of the UK’s manufacturing skills gap.

“In light of automation and the changing relationship with customers, we expect to see a shift of focus from product to services and, as a result, manufacturers will need to ensure they balance critical technology skills with innovation, creativity, empathy and leadership capabilities.  Those with relevant industry and sector experience will be as important as engineers and technologists.”

“The UK still has a poor public perception of manufacturing. The problems associated are just as cultural as political. If parents are not actively promoting careers in manufacturing to their children, because they still associate the sector with the failures of post-war industry and the de-industrialisation of the 70s and 80s, then government will feel less confident about leading a charge for change that voters appear to neither support nor understand. Parents and grandparents are more than likely to have an outdated, inappropriate view of what manufacturing can offer young people in terms of work and career. “

The Annual Manufacturing report 2018, carried out by The Manufacturer publication found that 69% of manufacturers said the British people do not understand the importance of manufacturing to the economy and that the UK required a national campaign of education to demonstrate the sector’s importance - and by extension improve attitudes to technical skills and training.

It is the Government’s role to provide an education system that nurtures and develops the younger generation, giving all of them a chance to succeed and make a positive contribution in the future economic and industrial arena. This requires ensuring education is focused on delivering a high standard of interesting and educational content in core areas such as maths, english, science, computer programming as well as emerging areas such as 3D printing, AI, Data Analytics and IOT.

As clear as the importance of landing talented candidates may be, manufacturers struggle with the perception that manufacturing is not a particularly desirable or even sustainable career field.  Only 22% of millennials had a favourable view of manufacturing work, according to a 2015 study by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte. Moreover, manufacturing ranked seventh among industry preferences—behind such fields as technology, healthcare and financial services (the top three).These findings are consistent with the EIU- Economist Intelligence Unit survey results, which show that 38% of manufacturers who now struggle to meet their talent needs anticipate a lack of candidates interested in manufacturing work over the next three years.

Narrowing the skills gap will take a multipronged attack. It will require both developing the current talent pool and imagining how to enhance the quality and diversity of those in the future pipeline. “It’s not one thread to change the trajectory” says Rachael, “The goal is to have a ‘huge impact’ on parents, teachers and society as a whole. If you want to be involved in technology, you don’t just have to go to Silicon Valley. You can build skills and be involved in manufacturing jobs.”

Redline’s Manufacturing Recruitment and Operations division specialise in the selection of both permanent, contract and interim professionals throughout the UK and Europe. Since its formation in 1981, the manufacturing jobs division has been staffed by expert consultants and industry professionals giving them a unique perception of the full product manufacturing life cycle including all aspects of high-tech and electronics production jobs, supply chain, manufacturing engineering and test engineer jobs

To find out more about our latest manufacturing  job opportunities, please click here or alternatively contact Rachael Dent on 01582 450054 or email