Manufacturing Excellence – empowering young people towards manufacturing careers

by Sophie Hall, Research Manager at Learning and Work Institute


14 06 2023


Tagged by:


The manufacturing sector is central to the UK government’s ambitions to create a fairer, greener, and more prosperous society. But the sector faces serious and ongoing skills shortages, which are being exacerbated by the pace of technological change.

With projections forecasting an increased requirement for employees across most manufacturing occupations (see figure below), it is imperative that we attract a diverse cohort of young people to the sector. Yet, our recent research conducted on behalf of WorldSkills UK (WSUK) found that only 36% of young people said they would consider a career in manufacturing. Young women are far less likely to consider a career in manufacturing (18%, compared to 54% of young men).

Forecasted change in employment for manufacturing occupations

Forecasted change in employment for manufacturing occupations
Source: L&W analysis of Working Futures (2020-2027)

So, how can we attract more young people to the sector?

  • Developing a compelling narrative about modern manufacturing to attract young women and men of all backgrounds to careers in the sector. Our research finds that young people – particularly young women – do not feel well informed about manufacturing careers. As a result, negative perceptions and stereotypes of the sector persist – including that it is low-paid, male dominated, physically demanding, and with limited prospects for career progression. However, despite 60% of young people saying they wouldn’t consider working in manufacturing, many expressed an interest in high-demand roles when these were listed in a separate question – including designing, artificial intelligence (AI), data, engineering, and software. This suggests young people don’t associate such roles with manufacturing. These findings indicate a need to combat stereotypes and promote the benefits of working in manufacturing, including the variety of roles available – particularly to young women.
  • Exchanging expertise between employers and skills providers to help educators keep up with skills demand. Our research found that while most manufacturing employers feel that young people are not coming through the education and skills system with the necessary skills, half (51%) say they are not working with education or skills providers to have their skills needs met, and two in five (41%) say they are not taking actions to inspire young people into the sector. Clearly, there is a disconnect between the education sector and industry that needs to be addressed.
  • Empowering educators to equip young people with the technical and employability skills required by industry. The training providers we interviewed identified a number of barriers to providing young people with up-to-date skills, including lack of flexibility in curriculum design, outdated course content and teaching resources, access to funding and equipment, and access to qualified staff. Addressing these should be a priority for government, providers and industry stakeholders.
  • Boosting higher technical education and training to help manufacturers adopt technologies and processes that will enhance productivity and competitiveness. Our research points to a gap between current participation in higher technical qualifications and the projected skills needs of the sector. Boosting participation in these qualifications is therefore key. All four UK governments are currently taking steps to boost higher technical qualifications through recent skills initiatives, and our research emphasises the importance of these measures.
  • Increasing enrolment numbers on manufacturing courses at all levels to meet replacement demand and the enduring importance of traditional skills. While our research points to a particular demand for higher-level skills, there is a need for qualifications and skills at all levels to ensure a future talent pipeline and fill traditional skills gaps (e.g., fabrication, welding) identified by employers.

What next?

  • You can explore our full report, which includes detailed findings from a review of existing evidence and secondary data analysis, new surveys of over 350 manufacturers and 1,000 young people, and interviews with employers and educators.
  • On Wednesday 12th July, WSUK will be hosting an interactive online roundtable exploring how high-quality skills can support the UK’s international competitiveness in advanced manufacturing. Sign up to hear from experts from L&W, WorldSkills UK, IfATE, and BAE Systems.