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We need to pull together to tackle the skills gap

29 January, 2024

A shortage of appropriate skills is continuing to hold back the UK’s manufacturing sector. Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for automation, suggests that a variety of parties need to work together to tackle the problem.

While pockets of excellence remain throughout the UK manufacturing industry, a worrying truth lurks beneath the surface – a yawning skills gap that threatens the future of UK manufacturing.

This isn't simply nostalgia for bygone eras. But more an economic Achilles’ heel that is impacting manufacturers in critical ways. Umpteen vacancies for roles such as engineers, technicians and CNC operators, are creating roadblocks to growth, hampering innovation and limiting productivity. Companies are increasingly struggling to meet demand, and international competitors, with readily available skilled workforces, are exploiting these vulnerabilities.

This skills gap can cause manufacturers to lose production, and to miss opportunities as skilled workers and jobs migrate overseas. This isn’t just about numbers; it's about communities. Families whose livelihoods depend on these industries, towns built around them, and a national identity forged in the fires of engineering ingenuity.

Underlying this skills gap is a complex ecosystem of factors. Firstly, perceptions around STEM careers are outdated. The image of grimy factories and monotonous tasks persists, failing to capture the reality of modern, technologically advanced workplaces. We need to showcase the dynamism, problem-solving and creativity inherent in these roles, highlighting the intellectual and personal rewards they offer. This must be demonstrated to students, teachers and parents alike.

Secondly, the education system faces challenges. While STEM curriculum improvements are underway – through the STEM Ambassador programme, Primary and Secondary Engineer, and many other institutions – a disconnect remains between academic learning and practical, industry-relevant skills. Gambica with its Young Council and University Council is helping to bridge this gap, however much more needs to be done to have the substantial impacts required. Apprenticeships need to be revitalised, offering on-the-job training that complements classroom learning and re-ignites the passion for the sector.

Moreover, whenever an industrial revolution such as Industry 4.0 takes place, a societal revolution normally accompanies it. Bias against vocational paths definitely plays a significant role. The belief that universities are the only route to success pushes talented individuals away from manufacturing, even though their skillsets could thrive in these environments. We need to normalise and celebrate vocational choices, highlighting their equal path to career success and fulfilment. The only way to do this is to showcase success stories, and to encourage future generations to consider all of their options and to realise that routes to success are not limited. 

There is certainly more than one answer to this dilemma, and it demands collaboration from various stakeholders. The most obvious of these is the Government, which should be investing in vocational training, promoting apprenticeships, and incentivising companies to provide on-the-job learning,

Schools also need to foster a culture of hands-on learning, integrating real-world STEM applications into their curriculums and forging partnerships with industry. This is a necessity when it comes to demonstrating to future generations that there is more to STEM careers than wearing a hard hat.

Industry itself has a crucial role to play by engaging with schools, hosting careers fairs, and offering work experience placements that will help to demystify manufacturing and spark the interest of young minds. Promoting success stories of individuals who have thrived in these careers can be a powerful inspiration. It is one of the many ways that the Gambica Young Council is helping to spread the message. 

Finally, parents and educators can also play a major role when it comes to shifting perceptions. Encouraging children to explore practical interests, celebrating their tinkering and problem-solving abilities, and dispelling outdated stereotypes can make a world of difference. Most of us remember the words of wise or inspiring teachers from our childhood, they often influence future career choices.

A simple push in the right direction can help an innovative youth to delve into the world of engineering.

Bridging the skills gap in UK manufacturing is not just an economic imperative; it's a cultural one. Misconceptions need to be dismantled, new ways of thinking to be fostered, and a passion ignited for the creativity and innovation that lie at the heart of this vital sector. Gambica trying to do its bit. With help from other institutions and associations, we can really triumph as a sector.  

 

* Gambica is the trade association for the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology sectors in the UK. You can get in touch with Nikesh Mistry on 020 7642 8094 or nikesh.mistry@gambica.org.uk, or via the Gambica Web site: www.gambica.org.uk 




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