Comment: It is time for recruitment to be top priority

The UK manufacturing sector must do more to prevent employees leaving their roles, says Tom Cash, director of Foxmere.

The younger generation is more accustomed to digital solutions
The younger generation is more accustomed to digital solutions - AdobeStock

Latest research from Zellis, a HR and payroll specialist, has revealed that 44 per cent of manufacturing sector employees are planning to leave their roles within the next two years. Brexit, the pandemic, labour shortages and skills gaps have all caused disruption to the UK manufacturing sector, and now organisations are having to tackle another issue that is recruitment and retention.

Building and maintaining a workforce with the right skillset has long been difficult for UK manufacturing businesses. Yet the challenge has intensified, specifically by issues of low unemployment and wage inflation amongst other geopolitical factors.

Make UK reports that 36 per cent of vacancies in manufacturing are proving hard to fill as applicants lack the appropriate skills, qualifications or experience. In comparison, the average rate across all industries is 24 per cent.  

The problem cuts across almost the entire workforce. That’s from leadership and management to production and fulfilling orders and continuing operations more generally.

Ageing workforce

Attracting young professionals into manufacturing is a circle the industry is struggling to square. This comes as just two per cent of manufacturers’ average workforce age is below the age of 30, as Equinet reveals.

When it comes to drawing new talent into the industry, those born in generation Z often think that working in the manufacturing industry is an old-fashioned, tedious job, with few opportunities to develop within the role.

But manufacturing is in the age of digitalisation. Industry 4.0, the implementation of Internet of Things (IoT) and the increasing use of AI has the potential to help to attract a younger workforce and aid the ageing one too.

By showcasing the industry's modernity and incorporating cutting-edge technologies that improve efficiency and job satisfaction, the reality of the manufacturing industry is far from what it is perceived to be.

Today, there’s a greater understanding that manufacturing is a fundamental part of the UK economy. In fact, a poll carried out by Sheffield Hallam and Savanta has revealed that 93 per cent of the 2,436 people surveyed think that the UK manufacturing industry is important for growing the UK economy, an increase from 70 per cent just five years ago.

Retain and support

As well as getting people into the industry, retaining staff is equally as important. When it comes to staff retention, organisations should start by reviewing their benefits, policies and practices.

Here, ask yourself questions such as, do these encourage older workers to stay longer? Can they work part-time if required? Is there potential for consultancy roles?  

Then, see whether such policies encourage or discourage employees from staying longer. It is not uncommon to find that some workers want to be upskilled, to be supported alongside automation or desire a financial reward of some kind.

After all, there’s nothing more valuable than keeping experienced workers on board and allowing them to pass on their knowledge to new recruits.

With that said, when it comes to retention for the older employees, do not approach their long-term future as a succession plan. Instead, help them transfer their skills and allow them to continue to develop their skillset and knowledge, which can be beneficial for all.

And these activities are not exclusively reserved for top leadership. Think about the organisational information top trade professionals have about process, the quirks of the machines or lines they work on and how to work best within and across teams.

Upgrading legacy equipment

According to a survey conducted by software developer Visual Components, prospective talent could be deterred by the fact that 31 per cent of factory machinery is legacy equipment, as the younger generation more accustomed to digital solutions.

The survey goes onto suggest that current employees do not shy away from technological advancements in the factory. In fact, 78 per cent of respondents said there is no hesitancy among their staff to make use of new platforms and, therefore, upskilling being seen as the highest priority.

By upgrading legacy systems, employees have the chance to acquire new skills and adapt to modern technologies. This is essential to boosting overall job satisfaction, with employees secure in the knowledge that their company invests in equipment that not only makes their work more efficient and enjoyable, but provides room for upskilling too.

Tom Cash, director of Foxmere