Ideas to help UK companies bridge the manufacturing skills gap

09 Nov 2022

The UK is the ninth largest manufacturer in the world by output, but the future looks tricky.

It goes without saying that the last few years have had a significant impact on UK manufacturing. In 2020, businesses were just getting to grips with Brexit when Covid appeared and caused further disruption to lives and industries. The effects have been unprecedented, and the UK is now facing a manufacturing skills gap. 

But what does that mean? 

A skills gap occurs when there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill the available jobs. As industry leaders struggle to fill roles with suitable candidates, we need to bring new ideas to the table to turn the tide and bring new strength to the manufacturing industry.

Today, we’re looking at five ideas to help UK companies bridge the manufacturing skills gap. 

What is the UK’s manufacturing skills gap?

In a recent hearing with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK, said the manufacturing industry is currently struggling to fill 95,000 vacancies. This equates to £7 billion in lost output for the broader UK economy. 

The UK hasn’t seen staff shortages on this scale since the late 1980s. But what exactly caused this manufacturing skills gap? 

Of course, the biggest and most recent disruptors to the manufacturing industry have been Brexit and the Covid-19 global pandemic. 

Britain’s exit from the EU means UK-based businesses can no longer easily access skilled workers from mainland Europe. And with around one in ten of the UK’s manufacturing workforce coming from Europe, that’s thousands of skilled workers lost. 

Closing borders and national lockdowns intensified this problem during the pandemic. With workers unable to travel between countries and businesses closing, the gap widened. 

But changes in the world aren’t the only causes of the manufacturing skills gap in the UK. 

Older generations of skilled workers are now retiring, but new generations of workers aren’t taking their place. As baby boomers retire, they take all their years of experience and knowledge with them. And with many young people now learning remotely through online platforms, it’s taking longer for them to gain fundamental hands-on skills. 

5 ideas to help UK companies bridge the manufacturing skills gap

1. Train and upskill current employees

Training and upskilling your current crop of employees should be the main objective for reducing the skills gap. 

Inviting younger workers onto training courses is a great way to incentivise them and get them excited about a rewarding career in manufacturing. The skills gap will hopefully close as more young workers gain key STEM skills in manufacturing. 

Manufacturing companies also need to ensure that experienced and retiring employees pass on their knowledge before leaving. This should be facilitated in the workplace so managers can monitor the sessions and test their mentees’ knowledge. Many manufacturers prefer practical training over classrooms, so make sure the training includes plenty of hands-on experience. 

2. Build a strong talent pool

It’s no longer enough to just hire someone and hope they can do the job. 

With job vacancies far exceeding available candidates, it’s time to build a stronger pool of talent in the manufacturing industry. This starts with the hiring process. Companies must develop more agile and efficient means of acquiring talent and developing them into highly-skilled team members. 

Digital tech isn’t just useful for manufacturing processes. It can help HR teams optimise the hiring process and improve talent acquisition. Today’s tools let recruiters automate the CV screening process to find ideal candidates and filter out those who don’t cut. 

Building and continually developing talent pools will go a long way in closing the manufacturing skills gap. 

3. Look for more efficient ways of working 

With a shortage of skilled workers plaguing UK manufacturers, finding more efficient working methods is crucial for minimising the impact of the skills gap and maintaining overall productivity. 

There are numerous processes involved in the day-to-day operation of a manufacturing company. From office to warehouse, sales to logistics, if these processes aren’t running at maximum efficiency, it can have a knock-on effect for overall organisational efficiency. Whether it’s a problem with machine maintenance, inventory management or customer orders, the last thing manufacturers want is more problems on top of being understaffed. 

To create a more efficient workplace during challenging times, manufacturers should consider the following: 

Invest in better machinery and tools

Machines lie at the heart of manufacturing. The better your machinery and tools, the better your output will be and the less reliant you’ll be on skilled workers to do everything. 

Implement automation

The emergence of automation and machine learning has revolutionised the working world. For manufacturers, it offers a perfect solution to help bridge the skills gap. Here are some types of automation in manufacturing: 

By implementing automation, manufacturers can fill some of the void left by the lack of skilled workers. 

4. Encourage new segments of workers to join your team

Traditionally, skilled manufacturing jobs were predominantly taken up by men, but navigating the skills gap requires businesses to break this tradition and open up to new segments of workers. That means hiring more women, young people, and skilled workers from other industries to help close the skills gap. 

Companies like Apple and Google have nailed it when it comes to hiring and inspiring the next generation. They offer forward-thinking incentives like remote working, better holidays, and tools to encourage creativity and innovation amongst young people. While these may not be possible for manufacturing, there’s certainly something to take from how these companies have opened up to new segments of workers. 

Partnering with universities and colleges is a great way to engage with young people and encourage them toward a career in manufacturing. And try offering apprenticeships or junior positions to ambitious young people looking to get into the industry. 

Read the latest manufacturing news and trends on the Workhorse blog!

We’re always keeping an eye on the latest manufacturing trends and news so we can help SMBs do what they do best. To read the latest, head to the Workhorse blog

And to see how Workhorse’s configurable order and inventory management software can help you streamline your operations and reduce the burden of the skills gap, get in touch with us today. 

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