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Only 6% of 'Generation Z' considering manufacturing career

Joseph Flaig

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

Only 6% of 16 to 23-year-olds are considering a career in manufacturing, a new report has revealed, with a tiny 3% of young women interested in the sector.

The low levels of interest from ‘Generation Z’ is a potential concern for companies’ future recruitment plans, with the same survey by Barclays Corporate Banking also showing that more than half of UK manufacturing businesses are struggling to hire new employees. 

Of the 2,000 young people surveyed, 47% said the career path does not appeal to them, while 35% believe they do not have the skills required. The report also found that only one third believe a career in manufacturing will provide them with advanced technology skills – something Barclays and other experts said shows a misconception about the modern manufacturing sector.

While the sector ranked 17th out of 19 potential career paths, many more of those surveyed expressed an interest in digital technology and IT. Yet manufacturing is the industry where cutting-edge technologies such as augmented reality, artificial intelligence and collaborative robots are frequently rolled out, said Verity Davidge, head of education and skills policy at manufacturer’s organisation EEF. 

“All of these things are the buzzwords that would really make young people’s eyes light up, the things that would really be of interest to Generation Z,” she told Professional Engineering. “They are digital natives, and they are the exact kind of people that we are looking for, for the manufacturing workplace.”

The sector also offers the skills most desired by young people, including decision-making, complex problem-solving and technical skills. Combined with higher than average UK wages, companies could inspire more young people to follow the career path – but only if the right message gets across.

“We have got really good stories to tell, we just probably need to tell it better, shine the spotlight,” said Davidge. Firms are increasingly using channels such as social media to find new recruitments but more innovation is needed, she said. Promising methods could be more workplace visits to demonstrate the appealing advanced technology. 

With news stories and popular culture highlighting potential wide-scale job losses due to increased automation, it is possible that some young people do not think there will be many manufacturing jobs available in future. In fact, said Davidge, there may be even more appealing roles available. “We are always keen to say no, [automation] replaces tasks, and the more repetitive tasks that are perhaps not as attractive for the younger generation… you don’t actually have to be working on a production line, you can be working as a production engineer seeing your work come to life.”

The report, A New Image for Manufacturing, warned companies should act now or risk recruitment issues becoming worse. 500 manufacturing ‘decision makers’ were also surveyed, with 52% reporting difficulties recruiting new employees. 

“Raising a generation from early years to graduation is a 20-year process,” said Barclays head of manufacturing Helena Sans. “In order to have an impact by 2050, manufacturers need to find ways to educate and influence the next generation now or face another 20 years or so grappling against these skills challenges. One solution is to focus on appealing to women as well as men, as it’s clear that there is currently a huge gender gap in perceptions of the manufacturing industry.”

Strategies include launching apprenticeship schemes, forging partnerships with universities and marketing on social media. In the last five years, the approaches were tried by 28%, 19% and 27% of surveyed manufacturers respectively. 

Only 11% of firms surveyed have plans to promote the benefits of a career in manufacturing over the next five years, however. Employing these strategies could help tackle misconceptions about manufacturing and encourage the next generation to study the relevant subjects to plug recruitment gaps, Barclays said, resulting in commercial benefits and a brighter future for manufacturing.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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