How Modernising Manufacturers Can Help to Mind the Gap


Andrew Walker is Director of Business Engagement at the MADE Project – a suite of European funded projects, delivered by University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) through its research Centre for Advanced Batch Manufacture (CBM). He shares his insights into how the adoption of new methods and technologies within manufacturing can help us close the skills gap.

The much talked-about skills gap has long been the Achilles Heel of manufacturing, and, here in Wales, it is felt particularly acutely in rural areas, away from the major cities.

But manufacturing accounts for around 15 percent of total employment in Wales and, if we are to thrive economically, it is vital that we grasp the nettle. Any sustained lack of pipeline of talent will, of course, undermine the competitiveness of Welsh manufacturers and hinder their ability to innovate and modernise – and to remain competitive. So, all efforts must be focused on closing this gap.

Thanks to a number of prevailing factors, industry shifts, and technological advances, we may be better placed than ever to solve this issue. The reasons for the skills gap are well known. People still labour under the misconception that:

  • Manufacturing is low-skilled, dirty and repetitive
  • Manufacturers are not ‘making a difference’
  • Manufacturing is a male-only environment
  • It offers only low paid work

We all need to work harder to bust these myths. Manufacturing is, in fact, a high skilled, high-tech environment with a constant emphasis on quality, efficiency and innovation. Far from being an unsatisfying career, manufacturers and engineers are making the very stuff of our modern world – the life-changing medical equipment, the next generation transport, the technology that is supporting those advances in renewables that are heralding a new modern era. If any sector is changing lives and the world around us, it is manufacturing.

Manufacturing has always been a broad church, with many kinds of roles on offer for the workforce. But these are particularly exciting times for new, tech-savvy job-seekers with an affinity for new and emerging technology. This is particularly the case since the spread of digital and manufacturing technologies is blurring the traditional lines between manufacturing and service businesses in the digital sector.

Traditional makers and manufacturers in automotive, for example, are investing heavily in new, connected car technologies. Big data is wedding manufacturing to services, and workforces need to be agile, adaptable and tech savvy to take part in this creeping change.

Disruptive technologies are bringing about evolutionary changes that young people are ideally placed to help deliver, for the good of our economy here in Wales. Across Europe we are seeing any number of firms with roots in traditional manufacturing and hardware reshaping their business, so it is founded upon software and data. This change might see, for example, a manufacturer use data to help customers manage their production, order supplies, schedule workloads, or to predict when machines will need replacement parts.

For our part, here at the MADE project, we are supporting eligible manufacturers in Wales to recognise and embrace the advantages offered by disruptive technologies, and to upskill their workforces in using them for the good of their organisations. The key to unlocking a successful future is more of this kind of partnership working – a combined effort by companies across Wales’ supply chains, schools, further and higher education institutions and government to make education and training relevant.

Radical changes are afoot within manufacturing, enabling an influx of new talent into industry, attracted by careers that are challenging, cutting edge, lucrative and satisfying.

The MADE Project is supported by the Welsh Government and the European Regional Development Fund, and by the European Structural and Investment Funds.