Quarter of manufacturing workers think the sector has an image problem, report finds, but HR could help

Study shows three quarters of respondents working in manufacturing struggle to fill vacancies, as experts say HR could play a part in revamping the sector

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Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of people working in manufacturing feel the sector has an ‘image problem’, a new study has found.

The State of Manufacturing 2023 Report by Essentra, which surveyed 466 UK respondents working in various manufacturing roles, revealed that this issue is causing problems when recruiting and retaining talent. But experts have said HR intervention could help solve them.

Oshin Cassidy, chief people and culture officer at Essentra PLC, said that although manufacturing consists of high-skilled jobs and careers, these are frequently overlooked because of stereotypical views of the industry. “This is harmful to the inflow of new talent,” said Cassidy. 

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However, Madeleine Stevens, senior lecturer in human resource management at Liverpool John Moores University, suggested that HR could help revamp the sector’s image – which she said is often associated with a “draconian” working environment – by building relationships with schools, colleges and universities.

"Research shows that industry collaboration with educational institutions can solve many of the negative image aspects," she said, adding that HR could reverse any negative connotations by “focusing on the development of talent pipelines and showcasing long-term career paths within the industry”.

Previous People Management reporting on research co-authored by the CIPD in 2021 found that allowing employees to volunteer in schools could “inspire” and “broaden horizons” for young people, especially at the time of publication when the job market was volatile during the pandemic. 

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The Essentra report also found that more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of respondents had trouble filling open positions, and a similar percentage of employees (74 per cent) claimed to lack the skills that potential employers are looking for.

Sarah Loates, founder of Loates HR Consultancy, said it is understandable that manufacturing has trouble attracting and retaining talent given that Gen Z and millennials make up about 38 per cent of the global workforce, have different needs and requirements, and value meaningful work and careers that align with their values.

“Manufacturing needs to meet the wants and needs of the new workforce. Savvy manufacturers engage their teams and how to achieve this. Be it a revamp of reward and benefits, wellbeing plans, or changing shift patterns to provide improved work-life balance. Much like evolution, manufacturers are on the precipice, and need to either adapt or die,” she said.

A previous study of the Gen Z workforce by Amba revealed that nearly two thirds (58 per cent) of employees were considering leaving their jobs in the next 12 months because their employer doesn’t share the same values as them.

Meanwhile, HR coach and consultant Gemma Bullivant said that while HR professionals must “inspire and influence” and “truly shape” people strategy, they are not accountable for employer brand – the leadership team are, unless HR is given a seat at the table.

“There is a disconnect when HR is not at that top table, but is still expected to be of significant strategic influence in this way,” she said. “The HR professional is hired by the business to provide insight and expertise on how to maximise the growth and effectiveness of the business through its people, but needs to be empowered to be held accountable.”