Comment: Millennials can bridge manufacturing skills gap

To address the manufacturing industry’s digital skills gap, more needs to be done to make the sector more attractive to millennials. A recent survey for Barclays Corporate Banking showed that only six per cent of 16 to 23-year-olds are considering a career in manufacturing.

Millennials are widely regarded as the most technologically-adept generation to come into the workplace, says Starrett. Picture: Contributed

Our own study “The future of the automotive industry: Navigating the skills gap” found that just 19 per cent of students declared a STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) subject as a favourite, with double that number favouring arts and humanities. There was also a clear reticence to undertake work-based or vocational education, with only 12 per cent of the students surveyed preferring hands-on learning and only 9 percent interested in apprenticeships.

At the recent Make UK conference, Business Secretary Greg Clark highlighted the fact that the UK has the world’s ninth largest manufacturing output, but there has historically been a lack of understanding of its contribution to the economy.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

The millennial generation has grown up in a digital world and is widely regarded as the most technologically-adept generation to come into the workplace. 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 sector.

Building a mutually beneficial long-term relationship between manufacturers and education providers will go some way to addressing the skills shortage and to building a strong talent pipeline for the future.

Industry professionals could engage with students by delivering career talks at local colleges and universities, educating young people about opportunities 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 activities to complete in the classroom and at the manufacturers’ site.

We also need to understand the millennial mindset. For example, when considering career options this generation are not solely interested in health or retirement plans but seek a benefits package which is customised to their individual needs. That could mean the ability to take longer holidays to indulge in leisure activities or, given that millennials are very in-tune with their mental and physical well-being, the offer of discounted gym membership.

As a tech-savvy generation, they may be persuaded by a package which offers discounts or cost perks from big retailers, restaurants and cinema chains, and the manufacturing sector needs to think about how benefits packages to meet their needs.

Manufacturing is constantly evolving in terms of its use of digital technologies and this has opened the doors to flexible working patterns. This is set against a background of evidence that senior management within manufacturing businesses are reluctant to engage with flexible working structures, but the reality is if they want to attract millennials, flexible working has to be made available to them as a priority.

In terms of career progression, millennials are looking for more than just a job. They are looking for detailed personnel development plans and want to have real engagement with their employer in terms of this on a regular basis. As such, annual appraisals should be a thing of the past and employers will have to demonstrate as part of their recruitment strategy that there is a programme in place to support future development.

By adopting a more creative approach and providing an ever-changing dynamic workplace, millennials can be convinced that the manufacturing sector is a space which offers genuine and rewarding career opportunities.

- Laura Starrett, employment lawyer at Pinsent Masons