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Two manufacturing workers look at machinery and discuss the skills shortage

How to attract and retain the best manufacturing talent during a skills shortage

Selena Kearvell, Senior Vice President, North

The skills shortage in UK manufacturing is well documented. Even three years ago 81% of manufacturers said they were struggling to find people with the right experience and qualifications to fill vacant roles.1 The overall picture hasn’t changed much in the intervening years.

For instance, recent research from PwC, summarised in its Annual Manufacturing Report that the shortage is now becoming an urgent crisis. Manufacturers are facing the largest shortage of skilled workers since 1989.1

What’s behind the manufacturing skills shortage?

The idea that the UK is no longer a manufacturing country is a myth.2 In fact, the UK is the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world, with the sector employing 2.7 million people earning an average annual salary of £32,500.1

So, why are UK manufacturers facing the worst skills shortage for 30 years?

The answers are many and varied but a key factor is that highly skilled, experienced employees are retiring more quickly than new employees are entering the industry.

That is, at least in part, because the sector has an image problem among young people. Manufacturing work can be seen as old-fashioned, repetitive, and low-paid. As a result, they do not view manufacturing as an attractive career choice.1

Allied to that, the shift towards advanced technologies – from 3D printing to robotics and artificial intelligence – means manufacturers increasingly require high-tech skills, which are also in short supply.1

Finally, there remains concern that Brexit, plus the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, will drive a further exodus of overseas workers. This would be a huge challenge for an industry in which those overseas workers currently account for almost 20% of employees.But whatever the root causes, it is clear that a continuing skills shortage is a real threat to UK manufacturers. Particularly as the sector transitions to advanced technologies enshrined in the Industry 4.0 model. The consequences range from reduced productivity to increased operational costs, and an inability to meet consumer demand – which may ultimately impact firms’ ability to stay competitive in a global market.1

How UK manufacturers are tackling the skills shortage

The scale of the shortage has forced manufacturers to take a long-term view of their requirements. They’re working harder to attract and engage the next generation of talent and making more of the skills they already have.

Some of the approaches currently being used include:

  • Skills forecasting: Looking further into the future, to forecast not just the level of recruitment required to support growth plans, but more specifically at the types of skills they will need. BAE Systems looks ahead 20 years or more to identify the profile of employees it will need to hire.4
  • Engaging with education: Businesses like Renishaw, one of the world's leading engineering and scientific technology companies, are working closely with schools, colleges, and universities to help address manufacturing’s image problem. And engage early with potential recruits of the future. Renishaw doesn’t just showcase modern manufacturing techniques, but provides young people with hands on experience by running free activities for local schools. And supporting university engineering students before, during and after their academic studies.5
  • Co-location with skills centres: Some manufacturers are relocating, or establishing centres of excellence close to relevant skills pools. For instance, when McClaren opened its McLaren Composites Technology Centre (MCTC) in Sheffield, it did so to strengthen its ability to “…tap into the Sheffield region’s extensive materials expertise, skills, university resources, and dynamism.”6
  • Creating an ‘employer brand’: An employer brand is essentially '...a set of attributes and qualities which make an organisation distinctive, promises a particular kind of employment experience, and appeals to those people who will thrive and perform best in its culture'.7 Executed well, this kind of approach can be highly effective in helping manufacturers compete for talent. For instance, Toyota’s employee brand, focuses themes like opportunity, careers, sustainability, and diversity around ‘mobility’ as a clear corporate purpose. This has helped to establish it as one of the world’s most attractive employers and the 13th top destination globally for engineering talent.8
  • Engaging with apprenticeships: More and more manufacturers are seeking to ‘grow their own talent.’ BAE Systems, for instance, outlined plans to recruit 700 apprentices in its whitepaper, Future Skills for Our UK Business.4 Similarly, Jaguar Land Rover plans to take on 300 new apprentices by September 2021.9 It’s now hoped that greater financial support announced in the Budget, as well as from The Manufacturing Technology Centre, will encourage more SME manufacturers to take this route.10
  • Focusing on training and development: Training and development is a crucial response to the skills shortage. 80% of manufacturers are ramping up workforce training with an eye on the skills gap.11 For instance, PP Control & Automation, based in the West Midlands, has implemented a detailed programme to upskill staff and maximise potential. This includes putting in place personal development plans for all staff and setting up an internal training school.12 It’s worth noting that a focus on training and development can have a wide range of benefits, in a recent study 65% of manufacturers said training programmes increase employee morale, and almost 40% said it facilitated recruitment.12

Navigating the skills gap


When you’re recruiting, you’re looking to do two main things – properly advertise your role so that you’re attracting the right people, and properly advertise your business, so candidates can view it as a place they’d like to join and stay with. Consider using specialist manufacturing sector recruiters also.

Employee health and benefits

While training and development tied to clearly defined career paths can help with both recruitment and retention, there are more direct opportunities too. For instance, strong employee compensation and benefits packages can have a significant effect on retention, while also aiding recruitment by positioning manufacturers as attractive employers.13

Redefining your workplace and reshaping retirement can unlock real health and wellbeing for your employees. Such investments can help mitigate your risks and reduce your costs while helping to ensure a healthier, happier and more productive workforce. Making these changes will help attract the best manufacturing talent during a skills shortage.


1. https://www.jjsmanufacturing.com/blog/uk-manufacturing-skills-gap
2. https://www.lloydsbank.com/assets/resource-centre/pdf/business-in-britain-report-manufacturing-july-2019.pdf
3. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/07/exodus-of-foreign-workers-a-threat-to-uk-recovery
4. BAE Systems Whitepaper, Future Skills for Our UK Business
5. https://www.renishaw.com/en/working-with-universities--34623
6. https://www.mclaren.com/group/news/articles/royal-opening-mclaren-automotives-carbon-fibre-innovation-and-production-centre/
7. https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/people/recruitment/brand-factsheet#gref
8. https://yello.co/blog/best-employer-branding-examples/
9. https://media.jaguarlandrover.com/news/2020/11/jaguar-land-rover-hire-300-software-and-engineering-apprentices
10. https://www.pesmedia.com/uk-manufacturing-apprenticeships-15042021/
11. https://www.industryweek.com/talent/education-training/article/21120838/manufacturers-willing-to-spend-to-shut-the-skills-gap
12. https://www.sage.com/en-gb/blog/tackle-manufacturing-skills-shortage/
13. https://briterecruitment.com/a-guide-to-employee-benefits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-guide-to-employee-benefits

Selena Kearvell
Selena is Senior Vice President of the North Region and a chartered insurance broker and has worked at Marsh / Marsh Commercial for the last 10 years. Selena has experience arranging insurance and risk management programmes for SME’s through to large multinational corporates.