Making more with what you have – meeting the UK’s need for more manufacturing engineers

Making more with what you have

‘Build it and they will come’ is a fine idea when you have the resources to build with. Unfortunately, many UK manufacturers cannot secure the engineering talent they need and production is suffering. Amid the tightest labour market in years, with external recruitment strategies often failing to deliver, future-proofing the UK’s engineering workforce to provide the skills needed for today’s and tomorrow’s manufacturing will require a new way of thinking.

Heading into the second quarter of 2023, UK manufacturers were optimistic about their hiring intentions – with statistics for automotive, transport, consumer goods, industrials and materials all positive by more than 20%. However, these intentions may be wishful thinking when confronted by labour market realities; amid tight hiring conditions, with too many manufacturers fishing in the same labour pools (especially for tech and IT skills), and thousands of roles remaining unfilled despite competitive offers, organisations expecting to expand their workforce through external recruitment alone seem set for disappointment.

Worse still, these problems significantly increase when the recruitment targets are highly-skilled manufacturing engineers. According to a government study, 186,000 skilled engineers are needed annually just to plug the existing skills gap, yet almost 20% of the current workforce is due to retire by 2026 according to the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB). Additional to these macro issues, rapidly advancing technology, new materials and processes, tightening regulations, and escalating requirements to meet net-zero and climate change targets are driving a need for more manufacturing engineers than many current recruitment and training programmes can deliver. The end result: 85% of UK manufacturing businesses say they are struggling due to a lack of skilled workers.

The shape of things to come – technology and industrial change are exacerbating the labour problem

Complex technology such as machine robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence, are now routinely inserted into many manufacturing processes. This giant technological leap has combined with the large-scale deployment of complicated synthetic materials, rapid 3D printing, and a communications transformation via the Internet of Things (IoT) to drive a need for large numbers of manufacturing engineers equipped with deep technical skills.

Put simply, making things today is less likely to require a worker at a lathe, and more likely to need a scientist in a lab coat armed with a technical degree. Roles such as automation engineers, AI developers, application engineers, robot programmers, and data scientists were unheard of twenty years ago. Now, they form the bedrock of the UK’s manufacturing industry.

Unfortunately, it takes time to learn these complex skills, and they need to be continually updated to remain relevant and effective. Additionally, skills and credentials learned and earned in higher education often require fast-tracking when they come into contact with the commercial world. Freshly minted graduate engineers may need months or even years to attain full employee value.

What does all this mean for manufacturers? It means relying on external recruitment, or graduate and trainee programmes alone is unlikely to solve their staffing problems. Retaining, reskilling and upskilling the engineering talent they already have must be the key priority.

46% of UK manufacturers admit their senior management does not understand AI

Looking within to stay ahead

At one end of the engineering talent pipeline are graduates and apprentices entering the workforce. They lack commercial experience and are still learning how to best deploy their skills. At the other end of the pipeline are mature workers, with some moving into retirement and some whose skills are becoming outdated as the pace of technological change increases. In between are a cohort of highly skilled engineers who are highly effective in their job but are too small in number to resolve the labour shortages and who may also need refresher training courses to maintain peak efficiency.

All of these employees are important to maintaining a strong pipeline of engineering professionals, but to overcome the current skills shortage, employers must look within and make more of what they have. What does that look like? It means developing a future-proofing talent strategy that aligns with the business’ goals and requirements – (for example, what are the technological needs?) – and uses a mix of career development, upskilling, reskilling, and diversity programmes to retain, retrain and attract the workers they need:

  • Career development – a long-view process that matches candidates and current employees to perceived trends within the business and the general industry. Shape the career of your workers to manage the future of manufacturing, giving them long-term stability and providing the business with the workforce it will need in years to come.
  • Upskilling – digital and mechanical skills training to sharpen your current workers’ skill base, preparing them for more responsibility, and to ensure high competency with new and emerging manufacturing processes.
  • Reskilling – role transformation and new skills training to retain experienced workers where their current skills set is becoming obsolete. Prepare them for new roles within your business and extend the employee’s career to reduce attrition.
  • DEIB – essential to attract young trainees, graduates and early-stage engineers. Generation Z will make up 27% of the UK’s workforce by 2025 and they feel very strongly about Diversity, Ethnicity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) in the workplace, viewing these attributes as necessary for high worker morale and business success. Forming a key element of an organisation’s employer proposition (EP), DEIB must be embedded across the business, at all levels, including training programmes and within the experienced workers who will perform the essential mentoring and on-the-job training activities to bring young workers to full effectiveness.

Staying ahead of rapid innovation requires immediate action

One only has to look back at the history of inventions to see the trajectory of innovation – it is always moving forwards and at an accelerating pace. Many of today’s technical manufacturing marvels will soon become obsolete, replaced by ever-more intelligent and complicated systems and processes. Even if the current labour shortages are resolved quickly, the increasing speed of innovation will still leave manufacturers with a need for highly-skilled engineers, workers who can manage technologies that may not even be imagined yet. Fortunately, many of these essential employees are already working in the industry. Reskilling, upskilling, training and retraining them now, to keep their talents at peak effectiveness, is the best and only way for manufacturers to stay competitive.

Building for the future – a task best shared

Identifying skills gaps and delivering the programmes to fill them may prove too difficult for many manufacturers to manage on their own. Specialist knowledge of manufacturing staffing needs, ready access to a wide talent pool for new recruits, and the ability to operate targeted reskilling and upskilling operations (including DEIB) are essential requirements for success.

Manpower Engineering has the people, (via our wide talent pool), processes and technology to help manufacturers achieve better workforce results. We understand the myriad of manufacturing industries and we are a leading provider of engineering solutions to many sectors. We provide training, workshops, events, and content focused on the three pillars of people, innovation, and skills. This includes our MyPath programme, a reskilling and upskilling centre that helps our associates develop their expertise and deliver value for the manufacturers they work for, and our tech academy that equips new and mature talent with the right skills to fulfil the engineering jobs of today and tomorrow.

Above all, good workforce planning is needed to deliver the skills you need. Manpower Engineering’s planning and insight is underpinned by our proven 4Bs model:

  • Build your staff to do the work you will need in the future through training and reskilling.
  • Buy the talent you need by going out to the market to identify those with the job ready skills who can help you meet your business goals immediately.
  • Borrow the talent from other partners or those in your ecosystem to capitalise on success.
  • Bridge the talent that might not fit into your organisation by moving them out to other roles within the business or outside your organisation.

Whether your organisation is seeking new manufacturing engineers, trainees, apprentices, reskilling and upskilling training programmes, or an authentic DEIB policy and employer proposition, Manpower Engineering has the solutions for your needs. Find out more about our specialised services for manufacturers today. Let’s build your future together.

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