Article by our partners Ellis Whittam

With an ongoing skills gap in the manufacturing industry, we take a look at the issues manufacturers are facing with their workforce, and what the changing demographic of workers means for employers.

What’s the situation?

The world of manufacturing is changing. With new technologies dominating the scene, a wide range of new technical skills are now required to drive this movement forward.

What’s the solution?

Well, the skills gap is nothing new – and employers are already implementing strategies to address the issue. Initially, technology was seen as the obvious way forward; however, operating these new technologies requires a completely different skillset.

To upskill their workforce, employers are now turning to the younger generation to keep up with demand. Employing young people can certainly be a positive business move, as school leavers are typically quick to adapt, keen to learn and easier to mould. For this reason, an increasing number of employers are considering apprenticeships in order to achieve their business aims.

However, it’s not quite as simple as opening your doors to a new demographic of people, as studies have shown.

Worryingly, a report by Barclays Corporate Banking has revealed that just 6% of 16 to 24-year-olds are considering a career in manufacturing.

Therefore, the issue for manufacturers is twofold:

1.     A lack of skilled workers; and

2.     Not enough young people wanting to learn.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, as we explain below.

The rise of apprenticeships

According to new government figures, apprenticeships are on the rise for the first time since the Apprenticeship Levy was introduced in 2018. This is hugely positive for the manufacturing industry and presents a promising solution to the industry’s skills shortage.

In fact, according to The Annual Manufacturing Report 2018, 71% of the manufacturers believe apprenticeships are developing into a proper alternative to higher education for school leavers.

However, manufacturers are reporting frustrations with the current levy system, with research by City & Guilds revealing that 93% of levy-paying firms are experiencing some form of barrier to investing in apprenticeships and 92% are calling for greater flexibility in how they can spend the funds.

So while it’s great to see more employers recognising the value of apprenticeships, there is still work to be done by the government to better support businesses in training a new generation of skilled workers.

In the meantime, manufacturers must address two key issues when it comes to hiring apprentices, namely:

·       How to hire apprentices fast enough; and

·       How to retain them for long enough.

Let’s take a look at each of these issues in turn.

Recruiting apprentices

There are a number of factors to keep in mind when recruiting apprentices (and young workers in general):

  • Know your audience. When trying to reach a younger demographic, be inventive with your recruitment strategies. Nowadays, young people live online, so consider advertising on your organisation’s Facebook and LinkedIn sites. Also keep in mind that parents will play a role in steering young people into apprenticeships, so you may wish to supplement this with more traditional means such as advertising on the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) website, online job boards, in the national and local press and through magazines and posters.
  • Utilise academic partnerships. If you’re not already, consider working with schools, colleges and universities to offer work experience, placements and internships. This will give you access to a captive audience who may have never considered a career in manufacturing before.
  • Presentation is key. There is still some stigma surrounding apprenticeships and the notion that they are somehow inferior to A-levels or more academic routes, so the way you present the opportunity is everything. Being able to clearly demonstrate the potential for career growth – by gaining hands-on experience while also studying towards qualifications – will help to challenge young people’s perception of apprenticeships.
  • Consider your requirements. Think about whether the role you are recruiting for really requires previous work experience or whether skills can be taught on the job. Often attitude is just as important, so recognise enthusiasm and potential – don’t set the bar unnecessarily high.

Retaining apprentices

If your business is to benefit from the addition of apprentices, you will need to retain them long enough for them to add value. You can do this by:

  • Creating a clear development plan. Workers are more likely to remain with a business if they can see a plan in place as to where they fit within the company and where they are headed. Clear timescales for development will help to keep young people engaged and working towards a goal.
  • Providing a thorough induction for new employees. Inductions are vital to an employee’s first impressions but are often overlooked or rushed. An effective induction process should make new recruits feel part of the organisation and welcome by all, as well as provide an overview of their role, team or department. Use this as an opportunity to share your values and goals, as this will help to promote positivity and enthusiasm.
  • Ensuring appropriate training and supervision. It is always a good idea to devise a well-thought-out training programme and provide apprentices with a mentor or buddy as they get used to the role. This will allow them to ask questions, stop mistakes being made, help them to pick up elements of the role quicker and build their confidence – all of which will promote employee retention.
  • Giving regular feedback.

Above all, employees want to feel valued, and it can be unnerving for young people to face a wall of silence and to have to guess how they’re performing. Remember, this may be their first job, so giving praise and celebrating their successes will promote positivity and a sense of achievement. If there are issues that need to be addressed, you should focus on offering support and the tools they need to improve.

Legal considerations when employing apprentices

Employing young workers also comes with a variety of legal obligations for employers. As always it’s important to seek HR advice to ensure you are being fully compliant. As the demographic of the manufacturing workforce changes, here are just some of the legalities you should be aware of:

1.     Type of work

Young workers (those above the compulsory school age but still under the age of 18) are not permitted to undertake:

·       Work which they are not physically or mentally capable of doing;

·       Work which brings them into contact with chemical agents, toxic material or radiation; or

·       Work which involves a health risk because of extreme cold, heat or vibration.

Work that falls within these categories is only permissible when necessary for the worker’s training, if there is an experienced individual supervising the work and if the risk is diminished to the lowest reasonable level.

2.     Pay

The National Minimum Wage rate depends on the worker’s age and whether they are an apprentice, and is currently:

·       £7.38 for 21 to 24-year-olds;

·       £5.90 for 18 to 20-year-olds;

·       £4.20 for under 18s; and

·       £3.70 for apprentices.

It is important to ensure all workers are paid correctly according to their age and employment status.

3.     Working time and rest breaks

Young workers normally are not permitted to work more than eight hours a day and 40 hours per week.

They must have 12 hours of rest between each working day and be given a rest break of 30 minutes if they work for longer than four and a half hours.

In general, young people aged 16 and 17 are not permitted to work before 6am in the morning or after 10pm at night.

They are also entitled to two consecutive days off per week (this cannot be averaged over a two-week period).

4.     Health and safety

Studies show that young workers are at higher risk of injury, so employers should take extra caution when taking on apprentices.

Employers must carry out a risk assessment before employing someone under the age of 18, taking into account the worker’s age, their lack of experience and maturity, the training required and what work equipment they can use.

Once through the door, a comprehensive induction process is key to protecting young workers and your business. If you need advice on what this should involve, read our 10 steps of an effective employee induction or request a free consultation with one of our qualified Health & Safety Consultants, who can provide expert guidance on tried and tested processes.

But don’t let this put you off – there are legalities involved with any category of worker, and with the right support, apprentices can become a great investment.

If you’re unsure of your obligations when it comes to hiring apprentices and young people, Ellis Whittam’s dedicated Employment Law Advisers can provide expert guidance, and their Health & Safety Specialists can lend support with risk assessments and inspections to keep you compliant. Call 0345 226 8393.


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