Tackling the skills crisis in manufacturing leadership

Laurence Frantzis, Director at people advisory firm New Street Consulting Group, shares how the manufacturing sector can beat the skills crisis

The secret to long-term success is good leadership – yet manufacturers could find this in scarce supply, according to leaders throughout the manufacturing sector. 

Research undertaken on behalf of NSCG found that 82% of senior-level directors and managers in UK manufacturing believed their organisation was experiencing skills shortages in its leadership team. They highlighted concerns about future leaders falling short in key areas including digital prowess and green credentials. 

Today’s manufacturing leaders don’t think the next generation have the vision and abilities to drive technological change and harness the possibilities of digitisation. There’s also a belief that future manufacturing leaders won’t be able to meet climate targets and that decision makers will struggle to develop strategies for organisations to thrive in circular economies. 

With the rapid rates of change in both digital and sustainability, it poses the crunch question of what can be done now to bridge this leadership skills gap? 

Laurence Frantzis, Director at people advisory firm New Street Consulting Group

Where the problems in manufacturing skills lie

A good starting point for addressing any talent problem is understanding the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of skills shortages. The executives we surveyed shared a number of key concerns: firstly, that new leaders rising through the ranks aren’t equipped with the necessary hard and soft skills to succeed; secondly, that responsibility for future leaders to improve their skills lies with the employees themselves; and thirdly; that time constraints make these things very difficult to combat. 

77% of manufacturing leaders are concerned that future leaders don’t have sufficient hard skills such as educational attainment and technical ability. A similar number, 78%, also revealed concerns about a lack of soft skills including communication and problem solving. 

It’s important to consider how closely hard and soft skills align with motivation, initiative, and tenacity. If a lack of ability is already threatening the success of employees and they’re having to invest extra effort to overcome challenges, it’s likely they’ll have less energy to develop themselves.

Around four-in-ten 39% manufacturers believe future leaders are responsible for updating their own skills. Such a high-ranking perception will quickly undermine the effectiveness of any strategies for developing leaders and will accelerate skills shortages. 

Undoubtedly, accountability and determination must exist amongst individuals to improve their experience and expertise. Ambition is a key characteristic of strong leadership and often an early sign of a rising star. However, employees must be provided with the support to grow, whilst fulfilling the duties of their existing role. This creates a climate for them to realise their ambitions and to maximise their leadership potential.

Leading the manufacturing sector by example

Time constraints can often prove one of the biggest barriers to overcoming skills shortages and developing tomorrow’s leaders. Interestingly, the research found that two thirds of manufacturing senior executives think they only spend a small or moderate amount of time on exploring new personal growth opportunities. In a similar vein, just 33% of leaders throughout the sector think they spend a lot of time on professional development. 

This tells us that today’s leaders are, by their own admission, under-investing in developing their skills. Given the supply chain uncertainty and cost pressures facing most manufacturers, this is perhaps understandable. They’re having to prioritise their time to tackle the complex challenges in front of them, leaving them with little choice but to put their own development on the backburner.

Inadvertently, this can create a culture where training and development becomes a lower priority for employees throughout an organisation. People look to the top for direction and especially during times of intense pressure when it can become more understandable to let certain things fall by the wayside.  

Aspiring leaders will often take cues from existing leadership. It’s with this in mind that today’s senior directors and managers can help address future skills gaps by leading by example. If they are seen to value their own development, it will be an attitude and approach that’s quickly cultivated amongst the next generation of leaders.  

 

What all this tells us

The crux of the matter is that the manufacturing sector must prioritise a programme of genuine engagement with its future leaders. The sector is evolving quickly, which places even greater emphasis on not standing still when it comes to skills. 

Training and development must keep pace with technology, automation and policies rooted in enhancing resourcefulness to minimise waste and environmental impact. This requires a top-down approach to continuously refreshing skills to ensure tomorrow’s leaders are properly prepared for a leaner, greener way of production. 

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