Open any newspaper in any country right now and there’s bound to be a story about skills and labour shortages.
There’s shortages of high potential talent in tech, the UK is struggling for delivery drivers, and education and state and local government in the US are having difficulties.
And across the globe, our clients are talking about engineering and manufacturing skills shortages and the resulting internal skills gaps, on every level.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that manufacturing was the third most affected industry, with only mining and logging and construction coming up above them.
From blue collar workers in manufacturing to execs in engineering, companies just can’t get the people they need right now.
- Is it the pandemic changing priorities?
- Are people leaving industries altogether?
- Could it be an aversion to shift work?
The truth is, there are a multitude of reasons behind this skills shortage:
Candidate motivations and behaviours have changed drastically over the last couple of years. The pandemic made people realise they didn’t always want to commute for multiple hours to get to a job.
The difficulties that many leaders have faced trying to get people to return to the office is just a small indicator of this.
In industries like manufacturing, where many roles require an in-office, or in-business presence, this has caused huge issues.
Many top performers have left their roles to work in positions that give them more flexibility, allow them to work in a remote or flexible fashion, or have quit the industry for good.
Changes in People Movement
In the UK, Brexit has caused some serious issues. It’s estimated that over 1 million people have left the UK in the aftermath of January 2021.
The effect of Brexit has arguably had a huge impact on the UK economy, but it also creates a severe skills shortage.
Internal Skills Gaps
While this has mainly affected lower level roles, it’s had a knock on effect to more senior positions.
There are less talented internal candidates to promote, because there is no one to fill the roles they leave behind due to these skills shortages.
Adding to the economic uncertainty.
Both Industries Have an Image Problem
Another major issue is that fresh talent don’t have a good perception of the manufacturing and engineering industries. That can not only stop people from entering the fields, but also mean the next generation is less likely to stay.
According to research by The Royal Academy of Engineering, misconceptions about the engineering industry are a major barrier to people taking engineering courses and contributing to the skills shortage.
While many pupils are aware that engineering businesses can provide a rewarding and well-paid career, only a small percentage of the population actually know what an engineer does, or what their day-to-day working lives look like.
It’s not just a case of providing better careers advice.
Young talent don’t have a clear view of what the manufacturing industry and engineering industry actually look like.
Technical Skills Aren’t Seen by Candidates
Manufacturing is often seen as dirty, repetitive work, done by men. According to Industry Week, people in the US think that the industry is in decline because jobs are going overseas.
Will This Role Exist in a Few Years?
As technological change means that automation and artificial intelligence takes over many areas of manufacturing and engineering that people used to do, there can also be a perception that the industries are not stable. People can train for years for their role to be made redundant.
The important thing here is that many companies have shifted from hiring for specific skills to hiring for potential. They want candidates in the labour market who are comfortable moving to new roles, learning new technology, and have the soft skills needed to deal with this.
And this is an important point to display to potential workers when they come into this industry or start their recruitment pathway.
All of the above has contributed to manufacturing becoming an unpopular industry for young people to enter into.
A Lack of Diversity
In a Deloitte study, it was revealed that just one in three manufacturing professionals are women. In addition, a report by the American Association of University Women showed that women are more likely to leave the manufacturing profession than men.
Part of this could be that the majority of women have experienced unwanted sexual advances at work:
- 83% of women said they have been subject to unwanted touching, kissing, or other physical advances
- 72% of women said they had received unwanted propositions for dates or sex
- 50% of women said people talk about sex or make sexist comments or jokes
And the examples – that contribute to the skills shortage – go on.
A Lack of Diverse Talent Pools
Additionally, ethnic diversity is also historically poor for both the manufacturing and engineering employers. A 2018 report by Engineering UK found that only 8.1% of men and women working in engineering were from black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.
This creates a real ethnicity skills shortage. This skills deficit impacts not only the overall diversity of the business, but also the inclusivity and the equity.
“No One on The Board Looks Like Me…”
The manufacturing organisation, MAKE UK found that BAME representation on Boards is just 5%, and while the majority of businesses have a diversity policy or are in the process of making one, 33% still don’t.
If no one on the board looks like your candidates, they immediately see that your diversity efforts don’t carry on throughout the company. And, naturally, ambitious candidates will see that board level as a ceiling it could be really difficult for them to hit.
In industries where representation is already quite poor for women and ethnic minorities, this can just seem like another challenge to hitting the heights they might find easier to achieve in other industries.
So. How do we Improve The Situation?
There’s no quick fix to the issue of skills and talent shortages in engineering and manufacturing. Partly because some, if not most, of the issues stem from a lack of talent pipeline: something that won’t change overnight, unless we can find a way to quickly improve skills nationally and internationally.
With an ageing workforce, fewer apprentices, and less manufacturing and engineering graduates, part of the solution to this will come from better education, better careers advice, and an overall industrial strategy.
Companies can help with this however. They can create more apprenticeships, get involved in education — working with local schools and universities on educational talks and work experience — and start helping the industries image. But they can’t do it all, and they need talent now.
Timing is Important
But until then, manufacturing and engineering businesses need to fill those roles – and quickly. They also needs strategies to increase productivity and focus n their priority areas so they are able to survive, maintain, and grow.
But how can you fill each critical role and find the talent pool that your competitors can’t?How do you overcome that skills shortage when everyone in your industry is going after such a small pool? Is there a way to fill your talent pool while bringing long recruitment pipelines down?
While we don’t have all the answers, we have worked with manufacturing and engineering companies globally for 20 years and we have some insights. On improving the technical skills of your own team, on how to find skilled workers in unusual talent pools, on finding diverse candidates, and on engaging them properly.
So we pulled in all that expertise and wrote a guide setting out straightforward steps your business could take. It won’t solve your recruitment shortage issues overnight – but it can give you some helpful tips to improve your strategy and get your recruitment pipeline filled.
You can also take a look at our manufacturing recruitment page for top tips on how to deal with common issues in that space.