Plugging the training shortfall

Published:  25 February, 2014

A recent survey undertaken by Festo Training shows that the UK manufacturing and engineering sector is still experiencing a shortage of skilled labour and that it is middle management that is plugging the shortfall. PWE report.

The majority of respondents to the People and Productivity Survey 2013 said that their business was suffering from a skills shortage and that the situation has stayed the same over the last 12 months or worsened. Companies are therefore citing training and development as one of the greatest concerns within their organisation as well as maintaining motivation and morale.

The shortage of skilled employees, particularly on the shop floor, has the potential to affect many areas of a business, most notably morale, absence through sickness and most critically, downtime due to lack of skilled staff available. The survey showed that lack of skilled employees has been a direct cause of downtime or reduced profitability in the past year for nearly half of companies.

Where organisations experience downtime, it is often line and middle management that steps in to replace lack of skilled workers. Anecdotal evidence indicates that it is a common occurrence for managers to step in when a machine is not working, or when production needs to increase and this has the potential for knock-on effects in terms of strategic planning and sustainability.

Gary Wyles, managing director of Festo Training and Consulting commented: "In spite of efforts by industry ambassadors, educators and politicians, the manufacturing and engineering sector still finds it difficult to recruit skilled people, particularly in roles such as experienced engineers and skilled shop floor workers. As a result, firms need to up-skill their existing talent rapidly to ensure their employees are equipped with the necessary skills to effectively maintain productivity, at the same time taking some of the demands off the squeezed middle that spends too much time on operational matters and not enough time on developing the business."

The pressure is on for companies to develop their existing talent pipeline, because the majority of employees within engineering and manufacturing are between the ages of 40 and 50. As the capable workforce narrows, it will be this age group, typically in middle management, who will bear the most stress. At a time in their lives where their personal commitments are also increasing, the stress may be too much to bear for many of them, resulting in increased absence through mental ill-health or early retirement.

The industry is going some way to address the lack of young people within manufacturing, 62% of organisations took on an apprentice in 2013 demonstrating a commitment to attract more young talent. However, there is still an issue in terms of training and development as more than half of apprentices are not meeting employer expectations in terms of their design and technical skills. Employer expectations may be too high, but either way, employers, along with educators need to look at how they can equip young people with the right design and technical skills for employment, as part of a structured apprenticeship scheme.

Key stats from the survey in manufacturing and engineering:

• 75% of businesses suffer from a skills shortage

• 88% say the skills shortage has either not changed over the last year or got worse.

• Skilled shop floor workers (40%) and experienced engineers (36%) have the biggest skills shortages

• Management issues of most concern are (in priority order): Talent development and training; succession planning; maintaining morale and motivation; employee engagement; difficulty in recruitment; lack of management skills; high number of staff due to retire; employee churn

• 44% say that lack of skills has been a direct cause of downtime/reduced profitability in the last year.

• The industry could do better in terms of employee morale - 43% average or below.

• The areas where there is the biggest potential for improvements in productivity: Shop-floor; senior management/leadership; sales; admin and back office support; distribution

• 71% of employees are between the ages of 40 and 55. Only 6% are under 35.

• 64% of organisations will take on an apprentice this year

• 52% of apprentices do not have the expected level of design or technical skills

The survey comprised 117 respondents across a variety of job roles in the manufacturing and engineering sector.

To view the report visit:

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