The manufacturing skills gap and poor recruitment strategies

Emma Robinson, founder of Red Diamond, on what has caused the manufacturing skills shortage and why it’s vital to recruit for tomorrow, not today

A recent ONS report on shortages in the labour market indicated that there were 97,000 jobs vacancies in the manufacturing sector in January 2022 – up by 42,000 since 2019.

The most common reasons for a sluggish uptake in roles were a low number of applications and a lack of qualified applicants. Of course, this is problematic for manufacturers, as it has a knock-on effect on production planning, sometimes resulting in an inability to meet the demands of customers – which impacts profitability. 


Job vacancies and skill shortages in manufacturing 

Filling job vacancies is, therefore, clearly an issue for manufacturers. But, for the most part, the problem does not come from a skills gap. 

Yes, unemployment rates are low, meaning there is a smaller pool of ‘readily available’ people to fill roles, but let’s not forget that most candidates – particularly from shopfloor to director level – come from previous employment and are not usually unemployed. 

And sitting back and waiting for candidates to knock on the door is not necessarily the best approach – after all, the best candidates may not even be actively looking for a new role.

The problem usually derives from one of two issues – either an internal recruitment problem or a factor that’s out of your control, such as location.


Some things to consider:

  • Is your pay rate lower than a competitor across the street?
  • Are you thinking in a linear way when it comes to salaries?
  • Do you have restrictive ‘patch’ thinking?
  • Are you demanding staff work from the office when they can be – and want to be – remote?
  • Do you have poor internal recruitment processes?
  • Do you have bad reviews on GlassDoor?
  • Are you thinking in the here and now rather than the future?


Here are some of our real-life client examples:

  • One of our manufacturing clients went through four financial directors in three years – they couldn't seem to keep hold of them. As a result, they kept increasing the job salary. After analysis, we realised the problem was that the managing director had a financial background and didn't give the FD much autonomy. The solution we proposed was to find a more junior FD, on a lower salary, meaning they could learn from the MD. It also saved the client approximately £20,000 per year.
  • Another scenario was a manufacturer who knew that they were losing their staff to a builder across the road. The internal narrative was ‘they always come back, though’. We carried out an investigation and found that just one person had returned, and the competitor paid £1 more per hour. Our solution was to up their hourly rate by £2 per hour, which attracted higher quality of staff, and meant they didn't need as many shop floor workers, saving them thousands per year.
  • A third example is a client who struggled to find a sales director. We looked at the salary and realised that they weren’t offering enough money, but an increase would mean the sales director would be paid more than the MD. We challenged this way of thinking. Sales directors often can ask for more than the MD, as they are the ones bringing the ‘food to the table’
  • The final example is a client who wanted to recruit regional, senior staff to cover ‘patches’ of the UK. They didn’t have the experience or skillset internally, and they had near-on zero candidates for the roles. We changed the geographical remit of the role, offered flexibility and hybrid working patterns (long before the pandemic) and we filled three roles quickly.

Recruiting people who can drive the manufacturing industry forward 

The bottom line is that it’s vital to recruit for tomorrow, not today. Look for people who are not actively looking for roles, and who’ve already done what you’re trying to achieve.

This type of thinking is what will help attract candidates who are not just motivated by extra cash, but by their next career challenge. You want people who want to help drive your business forward.


Some of the common mistakes we see in recruiting are:

  • Taking someone on because you like them personally
  • ‘Scrimping’ on the salary offer
  • Not having the tough conversations internally, to face the problems you’re experiencing
  • Being narrow-minded in terms of remote working or location.


Here are some tips:

  • Don’t assume anything. Investigate why you are struggling to fill roles. Leave no stone unturned. 
  • Seek candidates in competitors’ companies who have already achieved what you’re hoping to achieve.
  • Prior to hiring, carry out a thorough market analysis – find local companies with similar end customers or pain points. Just because someone hasn’t operated in your industry, doesn’t mean they don’t have the right experience or knowledge.
  • Conduct personality profiling of your senior team to ascertain areas where you may be lacking. And when you have a shortlist of candidates, personality profile them too to ensure they fit. It’s not about whether you like them. 

Of course, the job market is competitive, but I don’t believe we can declare a skills shortage just because the right candidate hasn’t fallen into your lap. 

Byline by Emma Robinson, founder of Red Diamond


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