According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of job vacancies in February to April 2022 rose to a record 1,295,000, almost 500,000 up on the pre-pandemic level. For manufacturing and engineering businesses, several factors have converged in a perfect storm to intensify competition for talent:
Brexit brought uncertainty to all businesses with the manufacturing industry particularly impacted by the end to the free movement of labour. The sector had become increasingly dependent on EU talent to drive growth and constricted supply has taken its toll.
Skilled European job seekers were no longer attracted to Britain’s shores. At the same time, many who had sought employment in the UK years earlier left because they no longer felt welcome or were drawn by improving home economies.
The arrival of Covid-19 and ensuing lockdowns put further pressure on the market. Workers were furloughed and many took the opportunity to change job. Cash-strapped employers resorted to redundancies and training and development largely fell by the wayside. Many baby boomers chose to retire early as they struggled to adapt to changing working conditions or were forced to give up work due to ill health.
Borders closed and overseas talent could no longer be relied on to fill the gap. The double whammy of Brexit and covid saw the UK record its first net EU emigration since 1991. According to the ONS, the UK lost around 200,000 EU nationals during 2020.
The Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) estimates that 19.5% of the current workforce is due to retire by 2026 – including 91,000 engineers and 29,000 engineering technicians The impact of an aging workforce is being felt far and wide, leaking knowledge, skills, and experience. The pandemic accentuated the problem as many re-evaluated their lives and decided to improve their quality of life by retiring early.
SHORTAGE OF YOUNG TALENT
Filling the gap with young recruits has proved easier said than done. Apprenticeship starts nosedived because of the pandemic. It was already proving difficult to persuade businesses to make the most of Apprenticeship Levy and analysis by the London Progression Collaboration (LPC) indicates that since 2014/15, entry-level apprenticeship starts in England have plummeted by 72%.
The manufacturing and engineering sector faces a particular challenge in persuading young people that they offer an attractive career path. The sector loses many of
its potential entry-level recruits due to misconceptions. Changes to immigration rules means that British businesses have become more reliant on domestic labour, but in the UK the sector is often regarded as dirty and low paid. Much work is needed to demonstrate how manufacturing has changed and the opportunities on offer.
NEW SKILLS SET
The advent of Industry 4.0 is transforming the skills sets required by manufacturing and engineering employers. Hi-tech skills from cloud computing to robotics are in high demand as companies try to develop smart factories. Recruiters are focusing on attracting candidates from other sectors to meet their needs, yet there is already a nationwide shortage of digital skills and competition for candidates is fierce.
All this calls for a new approach to recruitment. Gone are the days when a manufacturer could place a simple advert in the local paper and be inundated with applications. The supply and demand scenario has changed, and many recruitment strategies are no longer fit for purpose.
It is a candidate’s market. There are more job vacancies than unemployed people
in the UK for the first time since records began. ONS figures indicate that between January and March 2022, the unemployment rate fell to 3.7%, its lowest for almost 50 years. At the same time, job vacancies rose to a new high of 1.3 million.
Workers are now far less willing to stay put and remain in a job that doesn’t meet their needs. We have heard about the Great Resignation, a term coined in the US which refers to the high number of workers resigning during the pandemic. It seems that most of those handing in their notice weren’t leaving the labour market but jumping ship to take more appealing positions elsewhere.
Employers are waking up to the fact that candidates are in the driving seat, often receiving multiple job offers and able to dictate pay and benefits packages. Employers are vying for attention in a crowded marketplace and for many it is the first time they have really had to address how they stand out from the competition.