Five things small UK manufacturers can do to plug the skills gap

POSTED: 4th November 2014
IN: Guides

There is a lot of research to suggest that a skills shortage has developed within UK manufacturing, and that this has the potential to impact the future growth and innovation of the industry.


UK manufacturers are doing well; for businesses of all sizes, orders are up, exporting levels are elevated, and as a result, manufacturers and engineers are looking to expand their workforce and recruit the manufacturers and engineers of the future. However, this is not such a simple process, especially for smaller manufacturers. These skilled recruits are often difficult to source and presently, there isn’t enough young people joining the industry to meet the demand.

Research suggests that the problem is widespread; almost four out of five UK firms are finding it increasingly difficult to find the right people to fill the vacancies that they have.

Britain’s business secretary, Vince Cable, has warned that this skills gap is crippling the UK manufacturing sector and that unless we find people who have the necessary skills, businesses could struggle to develop. It’s not only manufacturing that is suffering, engineering businesses are also battling it out to recruit those with the skills required before they are snapped up by the competition.

The government is keen to address the problem by putting a strong emphasis on the need for apprenticeships that will teach and nurture the engineers and manufacturers of the future.

So what can smaller manufacturers do to ease the strain and attract the new talent into the industry?

1.     Stress the importance early

In order to future-proof the industry, it’s imperative that young people now and in years to come understand the importance of subjects such as science, technology, engineering and maths(STEM).

Employers and educators need to find a way of working together to provide a balanced mix of education, training and work experience to entice young people into manufacturing. You could start by contacting schools nearby to offer your services. Your knowledge and insight could prove extremely valuable for students seeking inspiration for a future career. By offering to give potential talks and lectures or inviting students for a factory visit, you’ll not only introduce young people to the working environment, but could also inspire them to consider a future career in manufacturing.

2.     Offer internships and work experience

By offering internships and work experience you’re helping to encourage those students with an interest in manufacturing the opportunity to really get to grips with the everyday working environment of a factory. Even those students who are not hugely academic could benefit from spending time in surroundings not associated with school. You’ll be able to provide a taster of real working life and potentially encourage an employee of the future.

3.     Create apprenticeships

Apprenticeships can be an asset to any business, particularly for SMEs that may not have the largest budget but are looking to the future and want to train prospective talent with employment in mind. EEF research found that three-quarters of manufacturing companies retained every single apprentice after training them, showing that by offering a great standard of teaching you can build a talented workforce for the future.

4.     Sponsor students

Having a mix of employees with different educational backgrounds can help to progress your business in the future, by providing you with a versatile team with different skill sets, experiences and ways of doing things. Ask yourself how you would look to attract those who have gained valuable work experience to your workplace. What incentives are there for the best candidates to join you over one of your competitors? A great way of encouraging graduate talent to join your team can be to sponsor promising students through university with a job offer at the end.

5.     Encourage underrepresented groups

There is a considerable lack of gender and ethnic diversity in the uptake of STEM subjects and careers, which already has a significant impact on the existing skills gap. Women currently represent just seven per cent of the engineering workforce in the UK and this figure is the lowest in Europe. It’s predicted that the UK will need to find 87,000 new engineers each year over the next decade just to satisfy the requirements of a growing economy, and unless the low percentages of women and ethnic groups in the industry is addressed, then this will be a difficult target to achieve.

It could be argued that a disinterest in STEM subjects at school is to blame for the absence of many women in these industries. After all, a recent report revealed that in half of UK state schools, A-level physics lessons are made up of boys only. However, girls need to be made aware at an early age that there are jobs for women in these types of industries. Under-represented ethnic groups also need more support and encouragement that they too can succeed, as studies suggest that while participation is high and broad in science and maths at an early age, the representation of black pupils in particular drops at GCSE level.

To encourage new people to these industries, it’s imperative that employers market their jobs and trainee schemes to encourage a growth in applicants. There are plenty of talented people who have what it takes to be successful engineers and manufacturers, but may need that extra encouragement and reassurance that this career choice will be fulfilling, rewarding and hugely important to the future economic success of the country.

Over to you

Plugging the skills gap isn’t easy, and there is certainly no quick fix. But by putting plans in place to encourage students to take an interest in STEM subjects and by providing training and encouragement to those with a passion for these topics, you could develop and expand your workforce.

Aldermore is a British Bank that strives to help SMEs to achieve their goals through a series of saving, funding and insurance options. For more information on how Aldermore can help you to plan for the future, please take a look at our business finance solutions.

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