Manufacturing

Manufacturing industry must do more to attract a new generation

By: Emma Wharton, head of Human Resources at Sofa Brands International
Published: Friday, November 14, 2014 - 11:49 GMT Jump to Comments

Professions Week kicked off its week of activities at the House of Commons on Monday 10th November. As part of the celebrations, I was invited along to represent the manufacturing industry.

The awareness week, run by Access to Professions, aims to increase interest and awareness of the different professions available to young people. It supports teachers and career advisors, giving them the relevant materials to help young people make informed decisions with regards to their career options.

The work done by Professions Week and those who support it is invaluable. Together they help young people make some of the most important decisions that will affect the rest of their working lives. 

We must do more...

It was wonderful to be able to represent the manufacturing industry and to discuss how professions which are often deemed as ‘non-manufacturing’ professions fit into our sector. People often associate manufacturing as being dirty, manual work and are often unaware of the range of professions that the industry actually offers. Across our three brands Duresta, Parker Knoll and G Plan, we have over 56 different job roles, offering everything from sales, marketing and design to HR.

I feel that employers and schools could be doing much more to educate young people on the many different professions that are available to them. It is equally important to educate them about the different routes into these roles, whether through university or apprenticeships. We must build a culture that looks to educate and support both young people and parents about potential careers.

For instance, once seen as the route for the ‘non-academic’, apprenticeship schemes have recently been growing in popularity. So far, a reported 1.5 million young people in the UK have enrolled onto an apprenticeship scheme. In addition, the National Apprenticeship Service recently reported that apprenticeships are so popular that there are now a staggering 11 applicants for each apprenticeship vacancy. Yet, when I speak to the apprentices we have across Sofa Brands International, they all felt that their schools could have done more to educate them about apprenticeship placements. 

One of the things that really stood out during the speech by Sarah Hathaway, Professions Week Chair, was that many of the roles that will be available to children currently in primary schools don’t actually exist at the moment.

Clearly, we need to recognise the speed of change in industry and commerce, as well as the impact it has and will have on professions. There is a need for better coordination between professional bodies, employers and schools to ensure that young people have access to information about the breadth of professions that are available to them. Without this, how can young people make the best decisions about their future? 

Modern manufacturing faces a perception issue

To coincide with Professions Week, we launched our own research that looked at people’s attitudes towards working. Our research showed that more than two thirds of Brits prefer office jobs. Of those questioned, nearly half said this was because they didn’t want to be on their feet all day. Moreover, over a third felt they lacked the skills to make products with their hands.

More worryingly, the research highlighted that over 40 percent of 16-24 year olds believe that the average salary of a manufacturing professional in the UK is under £12,000. Nearly 13 percent were unaware they could actually work in the industry.

Clearly, the modern manufacturing industry is facing a perception issue; it is not seen as a desirable career path for young people. With the number of people working in the industry at its lowest since the ‘70s, we have to ask ourselves: is this really a surprise when so many young people believe it is a poorly paid sector?

What does the future hold for manufacturing?

There is a growing concern about the future of manufacturing and its ability to attract the younger generation. I don’t feel people regard a career in the manufacturing industry as highly as they should. 

As our research has highlighted, there is a lack of knowledge about the industry and the vast range of skills required to be successful, as well as the number of different career paths available. Initiatives like Professions Week help to highlight the many different professions available to young people, but we all must do more to educate and inspire the next generation.

Emma Wharton is head of Human Resources at Sofa Brands International.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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