Do skills gaps provide more of a threat to UK manufacturers than Brexit?

UK Manufacturers

Over the past few months the media has been filled with articles about how Brexit may affect the economy. However, has perhaps an even bigger threat to UK manufacturers gone under the radar. As manufacturing growth has picked up in the UK in recent times, clients are now telling us that one of the main inhibitors to their business is the ability to find skilled, well qualified staff to fill key vacancies on their shop floors and in their board rooms.  Whilst we as Interim Service Providers can help fill some of the gaps at executive level we also need to focus on the skill shortages at more junior levels. Perhaps this situation is not so surprising when you consider that the manufacturing sector has shrunk over the past 30 years and in that time our young people in particular have been ‘encouraged’ to find other roles outside of manufacturing. As a result the manufacturing sector today is not considered ‘cool’ by many of our young people. If we are to regain lost ground, this trend needs to be reversed by policy makers as manufacturing not only creates employment for people but also creates wealth for the country.

Brexit in a roundabout way may indeed present us with the necessary stimulus to help re-balance the economy.  An economy heavily reliant on one sector, the service sector, is not a sustainable and more rigorous efforts should be made to address this in-balance. A lot has also been written about how Brexit may lead to the transfer of a number of highly paid Financial Services roles to the continent of Europe, how import costs of raw materials may increase and how tariffs may be applied to finished goods exported to Europe. However, these very issues may in fact work in our favour as the need to find innovative solutions to negate the effects of these problems should they occur, may result in our businesses becoming more competitive and ‘leaner’ thus creating the impetus and focus we need to re-establish our manufacturing sector. This will also generate wealth and tax take for the country.

Whilst the UK may never become a true global powerhouse in manufacturing again, as a country we have a lot going for us, particularly in the Automotive, Pharmaceuticals, Food & Drink , Engineering, Additive Manufacturing and Software sectors. We are a proud nation of engineers and Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IOT) present the UK’s ‘best’ with the opportunity to lead the world in this new Industrial Revolution.

Of course we can only reach our potential in the UK manufacturing sector if we start to invest now in our future by developing the ‘work force’ to satisfy this new growth. As a result, at Aster we would like to see policy makers embark on a more focussed campaign of promoting working in Manufacturing as a career to aspire to, particularly for our young people. This has to be start with our Schools and Universities getting the balance right between vocational based skills and academic ones. Manufacturers themselves need to be incentivised to hire more young people through apprenticeships and other practical based programmes.

Only time will tell if we manage to get the strategy right, but if we don’t, it may end up being an opportunity wasted.