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Changing the Perception of Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry worldwide is facing a sizeable challenge in the form of a shortage of skilled labour. The United Kingdom (UK), in particular, is grappling with this problem, as evidenced by a recent report from MakeUK. The report highlights that 71.1% of manufacturers attempted to recruit in the last quarter, but only 20.7% of the positions advertised were filled. This situation can be attributed primarily to the aging workforce, coupled with a lack of interest among younger individuals in acquiring the necessary skills to join the sector.

 This trend is concerning, given that the manufacturing industry is a vital contributor to the global economy. As such, it is imperative that stakeholders take a proactive approach to address this issue.

The Issue

The existing shortage of skilled workers is having a significant impact on the wages in the industry, leading to an unprecedented inflation rate of 8.1% in 2023, which is the highest recorded figure since 2001. The realisation that this trend may continue to have a considerable effect on the sector, has led to a need for measures that would make the industry a more desirable place for career development. By doing so, it is expected that the talent pool could be expanded, leading to a restoration of wages to a more sustainable and regular rate.

A 2022 Manufacturing Perception Study, from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, found that 64% of those surveyed viewed manufacturing jobs as innovative. This figure had increased from 39% in 2017 when the same study was conducted. This increase in perception is largely due to world events taking place that demonstrate how important manufacturing is to our society. From the miracle of creating a vaccine to the ability to put food on the table during the pandemic, these examples support a sentiment that manufacturing was critical to the pandemic response by producing PPE, ventilators, vaccines and other essential goods.

While this improvement in perception is welcomed news, it must be viewed with an eye on other factors, such as the number of manufacturing jobs that need to be filled. In the past 11 months, The Manufacturing Institute reported more than 808,000 job openings in manufacturing in the US, with almost half of manufacturers reporting that they are turning down orders as they don’t have the workforce to produce the products.

These trends are echoed in the UK with the Office for National Statistics reporting 72,000 job openings in manufacturing in 2023, a figure that has almost doubled in the past 10 years.

One of the main barriers stopping employees from taking jobs in manufacturing is the perception of the industry. Many people still see manufacturing as a factory floor environment, dull, dirty and uninspiring. People don’t realise how technologically advanced and innovative today’s manufacturing plants are.

The Solution

Technology is key to changing the perception of manufacturing as a potential workplace. Younger generations who have grown up with modern technology are very comfortable with it and expect their jobs to involve working with it, seeing manual labour as not as exciting. Therefore educating potential employees on the innovation factor of the field is essential.

One key aspect of manufacturing that must be vocalised to potential employees is that the field offers a career, not simply a job. This is true for all levels of skill and education, with the industry being so broad it offers a range of employment opportunities where people can use their skills to build a career path.

Attracting new, young talent to the manufacturing industry must also go beyond a change of perception, giving employees benefits such as flexibility, education and diversity must also be explored. Being a part of a mission-driven company is identified in the 2022 Deloitte study as one of the top considerations for employees.

With employee wellbeing as a key value, manufacturing firms can unlock the key to changing the perception of the manufacturing industry and filling available positions with top talent. A recent study by Forbes identified that 87% of applicants now consider employee wellbeing policy when choosing employment. By focusing on things that make employees happy and confident, manufacturers can attract the number of candidates needed to fill valuable empty positions.

An excellent illustration of this is a uniform program that not only appears great but also enhances employee well-being. Our study on the impact of uniforms on well-being and productivity discovered that 82.2% of workers felt that a proper uniform would increase their happiness at work.

Manufacturing companies can attract new talent and fill employment gaps by investing in positive people practices and improving employee wellbeing.


Manufacturing Outlook, MakeUK

World Economic Outlook Database

Manufacturing Perception Study


US Manufacturing

Uniform Impact on Employee Wellbeing and Productivity