How Can We Attract the Next Generation of Manufacturers?

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Do you know how many new workers are needed to enter the manufacturing sector annually to meet demand? The estimate from the government sits at around 168,000. And that’s to just meet needs by 2024.

 Where are we at? According to a recent study by Nineteen Group, 78% of industrial companies in the UK are finding it ‘harder’ or ‘much more complex than usual’ to source the employees they need. 57% of those in engineering are finding populating roles a challenge, sitting at 42% for both manufacturing and technical.

That doesn’t feel too encouraging when all three elements integrate within our sector, right? As a manufacturing MD, I understand and relate to the stats all too well. Not least because our modern world still assumes that a day at the office – or should I say, factory – is labour-intensive, with heavy-lifting activities clouded by dust.

While certain roles are concentrated to the warehouse floor, there’s a swarm of new roles that aren’t.

Industry 4.0 specialists.

Data and analytics experts.

Digital twin operators.

Our sector’s brimming with state-of-the-art technology that promises to keep manufacturing relevant in the 21st century and beyond. But it’s missing the people that can take us there.

Promising apprenticeship starts

Make UK’s an example of an organisation targeting energy into overhauling the pre-historic image of manufacturing that many potential employees share. Though to me it seems that we’re yet to have our real breakthrough moment, it’s not actually all doom and gloom.

Apprenticeship starts were up 8.6% in 2021/22 compared to 2020/21. 349,190 apprentices began practical routes into careers, with just over 14% (49,100) relating to engineering and manufacturing technologies. Could it be that single word, ‘technologies’, where the cause for real change lies?

Raising awareness of tech in manufacturing

Robotics, automation, digitalisation – we’re churning out R&D in technologies every single day that work to stimulate efficiencies across industry and supply chains. Amazon’s been using an AI model that’s learnt from real-world customer complaints data on product damage to choose the optimum package for a product. There’s already been a 24% reduction in shipment damage and 5% cut in shipping costs. Proof’s in the pudding that it opens the floor to leaner ways of working.

And it’s this out-of-the-box thinking we need to raise the profile of. Who raised the case to adopt AI at Amazon? Whether there was an internal lightbulb moment or a stellar pitch, it’s a huge call to switch-up an operation that receives 18.5 orders per second, shipping around 1.6 million packages a day. To continue to drive forwards, we need to employ critical-thinkers and problem-solvers who recognise the scope of the task. And who can swing the doors wide open to the seemingly unlimited opportunities they can accommodate.

Social media recruitment strategies

That brings me onto my next point. We can’t attract without being seen. Other sectors live and breathe social media – ours should be, too. Potential applicants aren’t just scoping out our websites before they hit ‘apply’. They’ll also be looking at our LinkedIn feeds, recent Tweets, Instagram posts…

It comes back to raising the profile of what we actually get up to behind the shutters.

  • A time-lapse of the state-of-the-art machinery that operates on the factory floor.
  • Before, during, and after photo series that show the intricacies involved in guiding concept and design through to final product.
  • ‘A day in the life of’ videos that showcases the variety of work our talented employees take on during their 9 to 5.

Everyone can say a role’s this or that. But not everyone can show it. And that’s our URP (unique recruiting point).

 Nurturing company culture

It makes sense, then, that culture’s my final point. 51% of survey respondents named applicants opting for ‘jobs where they can work remotely’ and offer a ‘more sustainable work-life balance’ as some of the most significant reasons that roles are proving hard to fill. Is it really out of the realm of possibility to transition manufacturing to a working model that’s more the norm for 2023?

I don’t think it is. It’s not just recruitment that our industry’s struggling with, it’s retention too. Looking after the employees you already have is key to attracting those you don’t. Despite recruitment agencies singing your company’s praises or a host of 5* employee reviews on Glassdoor, word of mouth’s still one of the most influential ways to attract new faces. After all, employee satisfaction is the free PR tool that’s easily forgotten.

Hybrid working in a factory world

And with that comes pressure to integrate remote, or at least hybrid, working patterns. We can do it – we just need a new mindset. Take your local GP – that’s a role we long-associated as face-to-face. But 4 in 10 appointments now take place remotely.

It’s the same in manufacturing, especially as the sector embraces and evolves with tech. Like remote monitoring equipment status that’s updated in real-time. Or using virtual reality to assist with design visualisation that doesn’t require everyone to be in the same room.

Obviously, there are limits and there’s also some preference for physical work. There’s something about being next to the 3D printer as it engineers your prototype, and not many of us have those hanging around at home! But what’s important here is the initiative to think wider than the confinements of the warehouse.

Flexibility can be achieved not just where you work, but when you work, too. We’ve done it – we now start at 7am instead of 8am, finishing at 4pm rather than 5pm Monday to Thursday. Why? We recognised our employees were fed up with getting stuck in rush-hour traffic, feeling as though they’d lost 30-60 minutes of their day. By opening earlier and closing earlier, we’ve cut out unnecessary idling. Our staff feel as though they’ve got back time to do the things they want to be doing. Without work getting in the way.

Even more, our working week ends at 1.30pm sharp on Fridays. Staff get more time to make the most of the weekend or catch up on ever-growing piles of ‘life admin’. And in return, we’ve got a content workforce. Employee satisfaction is reflected in the products we produce and ripples around our company as a whole. And works to accommodate the next generation of manufacturers who are making significant employment decisions based on the modern work-life balance.

The only way is up for demand for our next era of employees. Their digital capabilities and imaginative mindsets are in prime position to propel the next line of production. It’s now up to us to put on the show that attracts them there.


Louise O’Brien is the Managing Director of Greyhound Box, trusted supplier of corrugated cases. Specialising in consultation, bespoke design, and expert manufacturing of packaging, all solutions are sustainability-centric. Greyhound Box prides itself on operational efficiencies for environmentally-responsible processes and products.