How do we solve the manufacturing skills shortage?
If you look at almost any business confidence survey about the manufacturing sector, it will mention the challenge manufacturers have in finding skilled workers.
A recent survey by manufacturing business group EEF suggests three quarters of companies in the sector have faced difficulties finding the right workers in the last three years.
The education system is often the scapegoat for this apparent lack of skilled workers. But is it fair to pin all the blame on education when so many other factors are at play?
A problem decades in the making
It’s thought the manufacturing sector requires somewhere in the region of one million more engineers and technicians than we’re currently capable of producing over the next 10 years.
The threat of a losing skilled workers from across the EU post-Brexit could make the situation even worse.
But how did the situation get so bad in the first place? Economic reality has certainly been a factor. The closure of factories and the moving of production to the Far East and Eastern Europe over many years has meant the loss of some traditional yet vital skills.
Rapid changes to technology have also left the education system struggling to catch-up with today’s advanced manufacturing environment. The gradual push towards ‘degree-level education for all’ over the last 20 years has no doubt contributed to this lack of people with vocational skills.
However, it appears the tide is starting to turn. Exorbitant university fees are putting many people off academia and the number of people moving to vocational training appears to be on the rise once again.
Working with the manufacturing industry
And despite the skills shortage, the picture is by no means all doom and gloom. It takes time to turn these situations around and there are signs that the manufacturing industry, government, and education providers are starting to get to grips with it.
As manufacturing architects, we have certainly seen that taking place. We recently worked on a project with Furness College, where we designed an advanced manufacturing and technology centre based on the skills needs of the region’s biggest manufacturers.
It means that people leaving school and college have the advanced manufacturing skills needed to secure those jobs and help drive those businesses forward.
That’s where the focus must be if we are going to avoid a perpetual skills gap. Education providers, manufacturers and us architects need to come together to determine what the UK’s manufacturing skills needs are going to be not just five years from now, but 10 and 20 years from now too.
Written by Zoe Hooton, director, Harrison Pitt Architects.