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Michael Page International

Opinion Page

Manufacturing needs to make more of specialist skills

Posted by on Mar 20 13:21. | Edit

After years of operating in challenging times, UK manufacturing is finally experiencing a much awaited renaissance. Data from the Markit/CIPS Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index showed a strong upsurge towards the end of 2013, with rates of growth in production and new orders amongst the highest seen in the survey’s 22 year history.

This is good news. It’s good for firms, good for the economy and stands to put UK manufacturing back on the map. The question is, do we have the people to support it?

Headlines declaring talent shortages across the industry have become commonplace in many industry magazines.

For many, the solution lies in making a greater effort to take on new recruits through apprenticeship schemes. This is certainly an important step in safe-guarding the future of the industry but we’re seeing a new, equally pressing issue emerging; a squeeze on existing skills.

We recently surveyed 2,000 UK professionals to find out how they use their specialist skills at work, and worryingly, the data suggests that companies are not making the most of their staff’s specialist skills.

Almost half (49%) of the manufacturing and engineering professionals we spoke to said that they are doing more non-core tasks than they expected when starting their current role. In fact, it seems that workers now spend at least 10 hours every week on non-core tasks.

There’s a risk that the sector may be taking the mantra of ‘lean’ manufacturing too far. Spreading people too thinly across a number of roles cannot be a sustainable long-term strategy and may even contribute to a production slow down as skilled employees are diverted away from their core role.

Already, 38% of the manufacturing professionals we spoke to think that the lack of specialist skills in their company is placing unnecessary pressure on them to meet customer demands and a third think their business needs to hire more specialist staff.

If manufacturing firms are to make the most of the recovery, specialist skills need to be put back on the agenda. This needs to start at the point of recruitment, by hiring technical skills or providing the necessary training for individuals upfront, then developing these skills throughout an individual’s career.

Without this, the industry will fail to make the most of the upturn and will certainly struggle to equip future generations with the skills and knowledge they need to keep British manufacturing moving.

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