I would say that going into this job my perception of manufacturing was that it was a bit of an Old Boys Club. I expected that the industry was quite traditional in nature and perhaps had done things a certain way for many years. I thought there might be a bit of a ‘lads’ environment. Talking to the public at large this does seem to be the general perception of the industry.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Manufacturing is in fact a quickly changing industry and not at all a boy’s club. The people working within are all passionate about what they do and are always looking at new and innovative ways of going about their work. There is a real push to get away from the old dirty factories of yesterday and to modern, well organised places of work.
An Exciting Industry To Join
For many manufacturers, the main challenge for the next 5 years is finding skilled workers. There seems to have been a real gap in the 90s and early 00s of people entering the market and so we have a lot of workers currently coming up to retirement, without immediate replacements.
One way I could see manufacturing addressing this would be to more actively attract talent from different fields. Many people I speak to worry that engineering is a very niche field and only for people with specialist knowledge but (and this will annoy any engineers reading) it isn’t really that difficult. There are certainly jobs at a certain level where with training you don’t need a great level of technical expertise. The industry as a whole could pick up more slack from retail jobs if the infrastructure was in place to support both businesses and individuals looking to re-skill.
Longer term, I have been surprised that so many young people really see engineering and manufacturing as an exciting and viable career path and are clamouring for opportunities. When we look to the next ten years I see these new entrants filling the skills gap, so long as engineering companies are actively attending careers fairs and mock interview days to help dispel the myths I talked about above.
An Industry That Doesn’t Sell Itself
Although there are a lot of people and companies who are actively promoting all things STEM and manufacturing, the industry as a whole is certainly a few years behind. Most manufacturing marketing I see tends to be ‘this is what we can do’ or ‘look at this thing we’ve done’ and there is little in the way of informative content online. You would be surprised how many people reach out to me for technical advice (especially in electroplating) based on articles I’ve put out. Although I can appreciate that a lot of technical advice tends to be specific to any given application, manufacturing could do more to inform and help its customers from a marketing standpoint.
We also need a greater diversity in terms of WHO are hearing from. All too often the only people who are speaking on behalf of manufacturers are big international companies, and I doubt their outlook reflects the majority. In my time here I’ve been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and been on German Radio, just from making myself available to comment. I highly recommend EEF who have a fantastic PR team who will send you press opportunities even if you are not a member.
Overall I have absolutely loved working in manufacturing. It is a really interesting industry that it diverse and fast changing and full of extremely hard working people. The thing I have most enjoyed has been finding out how items I use everyday work and what components go into them. I remember quite recently I was on a train that broke down in a tunnel, and knew exactly what had gone wrong just from writing some articles on the subject!