How do we solve the manufacturing industry brain drain?

March 28th

The manufacturing sector makes a significant contribution to economic growth in the UK, it’s an important part of our country’s heritage and has developed enormously with the introduction of new technology and processes in the past decade. In fact, Britain’s manufacturers are relishing the highest demand for their products in 30 years, as the recuperating global economy and weak pound boost orders.

However, manufacturing companies are suffering from a lack of new talent entering the sector, specifically young people with the basic foundation skills required to excel in engineering positions. Many experienced people will be retiring in the next few years and it’s hugely important that we don’t completely lose this expertise without it being passed on to the next generation.
It seems strange that an industry that’s firing on all cylinders is lacking support from the Government and educators, but the skills gap is a real problem that we need to raise awareness about. To foster long-term growth in manufacturing we need the quality raw materials – bright young people who want to develop and take the industry into the future.
The problem starts in our schools, where a number of fundamental issues with the curriculum can be detrimental to children from a young age. With the rise of digital technology, computers and tablets are becoming too much of a crutch for teachers and pupils. These innovations are positive in many ways, however we’re tipping too far in this direction at the detriment of basic skills and knowledge. For example, we are seeing young people coming out of school who do not know how to use a protractor or set square, who don’t know the simple mathematics of angles and geometry. These skills are integral in most engineering and manufacturing roles, but many children lose an interest in maths very early on. Is this down to the way it’s being taught perhaps?
More worrying than this is the absence of problem solving skills that this fosters. Trigonometry can be taught, but an inability to problem solve is a much bigger issue and it’s harder to instil this once someone has left school. It’s a way of thinking that needs to be developed at a young age and technology is removing the need for pupils to take the initiative and be resourceful. It feels like many seeds are not being germinated – that there are pupils who have great potential but aren’t being equipped with the tools to progress.
The Government needs to set a curriculum with a focus on developing practical problem solving abilities – useful in so many jobs. There needs to be a healthy balance between technology – an incredibly important skill in our industry – and real-world, hands-on learning. There are still some problems that Google can’t answer.
Another stumbling block to finding talented people to take engineering and manufacturing roles is that young people with the right skills are being poached into other ‘more appealing’ careers. The industry has suffered from a lack of promotion and an ill founded negative reputation. It’s important that young people know all the options available to them – vocational training and jobs are a solid investment and offer great opportunities for students to progress. However, for too many university is being touted as the only option, when in fact you can get a highly paid, very reliable job in manufacturing, engineering or construction without a degree. These roles offer transferable skills, on the job training and the opportunity to be part of an industry that shapes the country. The work we do is truly inspiring, challenging and meaningful. Being part of a prestigious project gives us a huge sense of pride. Take our involvement in the O2 or London Bridge railway station for example. Millions of people will use and benefit from these buildings every year.
A lifelong career with personal and professional development should be something to aspire to. At Bailey new employees are trained in these basic skills that we have discussed, but this training continues throughout their time at the company. Coupled with good working hours, a range of benefits and a strong team ethos, Bailey has grown a loyal workforce that’s more like a family, with a very low staff turnover.
We do struggle to get on board with apprenticeships as the jobs we offer don’t appear to fit in with current college courses and training programmes so it’s difficult to engage with these establishments. Sometimes we can only recruit older trainees as the work requires physical strength that is unsuitable for developing bodies. However there are some jobs you can do at 16, like working on PPC, fabrication and welding – a great chance to learn from the experienced employees.
With an ever rising demand for housing and an increase in large infrastructure projects across the UK, the need for employees in construction, manufacturing and engineering shows no sign of letting up. As manufacturers we must take responsibility in promoting the benefits of a career in our industry and the ways young people can get into the industry. By improving perceptions we can show how appealing these jobs really are.
The Government, schools and colleges also have the responsibility to improve teaching and careers advice, and manufacturing and engineering associations are also accountable for lobbying on the skills gap issue. But we can all make a positive impact – we will continue to work with local educators to spread this message. We speak at five or six schools a year to get young people on board, and would encourage other manufacturers to do the same across the country.
Would you like to find out more about a career at Bailey? Contact us today!