Millennials' 'misconceptions' add to manufacturing skills shortage

Out-Law News | 22 Feb 2019 | 8:49 am | 2 min. read

More needs to be done to make the prospect of working in UK manufacturing more attractive to 'millennials', an employment law expert has said.

Laura Starrett of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that there was recognition among delegates at an industry conference earlier this week that the perception young people have of the sector needs to change if the digital skills gap in manufacturing is to be addressed.

"This is the time to demonstrate the reality of modern manufacturing as an exciting, creative and rewarding vocation," said Starrett who attended the Make UK conference. 

"To engage and inspire young people to consider a career in the manufacturing sector, it is critical to use digital marketing platforms. This generation has grown up in a digital world and are widely regarded as the most technologically adept generation coming into the workplace ever. It is therefore incumbent on manufacturing businesses to engage with popular technologies if they wish to be relatable to the youth who will shape the future of the manufacturing sector in this country for decades to come," she said.

Speeches were made at the Make UK conference by business secretary Greg Clark and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Clark highlighted the fact that the UK has the ninth largest manufacturing output in the world, despite a poll revealing that the British public had, on average, estimated that the UK sits 56th on that list of countries.

Clark said: "There is, I think, a lack of adequate understanding, historically, in this country, as to how intrinsic manufacturing is to the success of our service economy."

"There are so many lingering misconceptions that I’m sure you as I are frustrated about, that people have the wrong view of manufacturing," he told delegates.

"The perception needs to be countered … to show the reality of modern manufacturing as one of the most exciting vocations that exist in Britain today. We should be proud of the world-class manufacturing talent that we produce in this country, and we need to produce more," the minister said.

Starrett said there is an opportunity to focus on building a mutually beneficial long-term relationship between manufacturers and education providers to address the skills shortage and to build a strong talent pipeline for the future. 

"There are a number of ways in which this succession planning can be achieved in practice," Starrett said. "Industry professionals could engage with students by delivering career talks at local colleges and universities, educating young people about what opportunities there are in the sector, from apprenticeships to graduate placements."

"Other options include one-to-one mentoring schemes and offering teachers a structured work placement opportunity so they can pass on information in a careers guidance capacity. It is also vital that young people involved in a work placement programme are given challenging and engaging practical problem solving activities to complete both in the classroom and at the manufacturers' site. A multi-layered approach to supporting quality engagement with young people is fundamental to attracting the next generation of talent," she said.

In his speech at the conference, Corbyn announced a new Commission for Lifelong Learning which will bring together 14 experts from across the education sector.

"The Commission will make detailed proposals on how to integrate qualifications, introduce a credits system to make qualifications transferable, and make it as easy as possible for people to pick up or pause their studies at times that work for them," Corbyn said.

The Commission is to be jointly chaired by the former education secretary Estelle Morris, and trade unionist Dave Ward. 

"This approach encourages the existing and experienced part of the manufacturing workforce to seize opportunities to retrain and potentially flourish rather than just allow technological advancements to build anxiety around outdated skill sets," Starrett said. "This is important in order to ensure that the entire workforce plays a role in enhancing productivity."