Manufacturing sector needs to work harder to attract new talent

A recent study from trade show organiser Nineteen Group carried out for its forthcoming Manufacturing and Engineering Week event has shown that 78% of UK industrial companies are finding it either harder or much more complex than usual to find the employees they need.

Sponsored by recruitment firm Hunter Selection, the survey was carried out in April 2022 and drew responses from 268 companies operating in manufacturing, engineering, automotive, aerospace, and oil and gas.

According to the survey results, 51% of survey respondents said that the most significant reasons that roles are proving hard to fill is that applicants either lack the experience, skills or qualifications required, or are opting for jobs where they can work remotely work and which offer a more sustainable work-life balance.

The survey results show that the most challenging roles to populate are engineering at 57%, manufacturing at 42%, and technical at 42%.

When survey respondents were asked, “What do you think are the main causes of the skills shortage facing the UK manufacturing and engineering sector?” replies were roughly equally split between a variety of factors, including insufficient involvement of manufacturing in technical education; insufficient understanding of opportunities in modern manufacturing and engineering; and a lack of interest in manufacturing and engineering.

While the desire to join the industry diminishes, the number of vacancies continues to rise, putting added pressure on firms to offer more competitive and flexible job opportunities and show what a career in modern manufacturing and engineering is really about.

“The results of our survey show that despite being brought up with technology, the latest generation of young people often have little understanding of the many interesting career opportunities that are available in today’s manufacturing and engineering sector,” says Natig Abdullaev, exhibition director for Nineteen Group. “With its focus on innovation, our Manufacturing and Engineering Week event has been specifically designed to tackle misperceptions of industry head-on and show that it is an exciting and rewarding environment to work in.” 

The survey also clearly indicated the impact of Covid-19 on UK manufacturing and engineering businesses, with 67% of respondents saying their business had either been wholly or partly affected by the pandemic.

“The Covid-19 pandemic caught many companies by surprise and revealed the need for greater resilience against unexpected shocks that can affect daily operation,” says Russell Smith, managing director at Hunter Selection. “For companies across multiple sectors, the combination of staff sickness, self-isolation and lockdowns had a significant impact on their productivity and revealed the need for back-up plans to be put in place to supplement and support workforces.” 

Many of these issues could potentially have been resolved by using automation, with the latest generation of collaborative robots, for example, offering the ability to work safely alongside people to help fill gaps in production lines. However, only 35% of survey respondents said they had considered using automated technologies such as robots to either fill vacant roles or assist existing workers.

Joe Daft, head of robotics at Wise Robotics, says: “Although robotic automation has been proven to be beneficial for handling a wide range of applications across multiple industries, research has shown that many companies, especially in the UK, face challenges when it comes to adoption of automation. In many cases, this is due to those companies lacking the skills or experience needed to operate robots and other types of automated equipment.

“However, with many automation equipment manufacturers offering training and support for new users, there is a great opportunity for companies to switch to automated equipment to address the issues caused by a shortage of skilled or available labour.”

Amongst the organisations involved in the Manufacturing and Engineering Week event will be Engineering UK and Make UK, both of which actively work to find ways to fill the skills gap and attract young people into manufacturing and engineering careers.

The future of skills development in the manufacturing and engineering sectors will also be one of the topics covered in the Engineering Keynote Theatre at Manufacturing and Engineering Week in a session entitled ‘The future of technical education and skills development in manufacturing and engineering’. Taking place on 9 June, the session will be a panel discussion featuring experts from organisations including GKN Aerospace, Royal Mail, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, West of England Institute of Technology and North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College, discussing the role of education in helping to fill the UK’s engineering skills shortage. 

Manufacturing and Engineering Week will provide a great environment for visitors to see a wide array of the latest innovations covering everything from automated production, AI and Industry 4.0 technologies through to digital maintenance, cybersecurity and much more. 

The week kicks off on 6 June with two days of digital sessions, featuring industry leaders giving their expert views on the issues and opportunities facing engineering and manufacturing today. This is followed by two days of live events, with four exhibitions at one venue taking place over 8-9 June – Manufacturing Expo, Engineering Expo, Maintec and Design Engineering Expo.

With contributions from key stakeholders in Government, trade bodies and industry, plus a multitude of exhibition stands covering a range of technologies, the four exhibitions will showcase the most exciting solutions across the entire breadth of manufacturing and engineering, from design and development to processes, assembly, control, robotics, maintenance and skills development.

Nineteen Group

Central House
1 Alwyne Road
SW19 7AB

+44 (0)20 8947 9177

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