Decreasing language barriers can fill manufacturing jobs

Pocketalk’s Jess O'Dwyer, explores how adopting the right digital technology to overcome language barriers can help manufacturers fill jobs shortages

Talk of staff shortages has become a staple part of discussion about the UK economy at present, and that includes the country’s wider manufacturing industry. 

The UK manufacturing industry currently has large-scale talent shortages with 268,803 fewer people employed than Q1 2020, which is a decrease of 9%. The impact of this shortage can include a knock-on effect on production and planning, which can sometimes lead to being unable to meet customer demand, resulting in lower sales and profits.

The workforce shortage has been caused in part by the impact of Brexit and coronavirus reducing the number of foreign workers coming to work in the industry, as well as workers taking early retirement, and the impact of more long-term illness.

However, with reports that the government is shifting its policy to allow more foreign workers into the country to address the acute labour shortages, the manufacturing sector has an opportunity. Embracing language diversity could help fill the labour shortage.


Attracting foreign workers to manufacturing

UK manufacturers must now work harder than ever to attract and retain more skilled foreign workers who are likely to speak English as an Additional Language (EAL) to help fill labour shortages. To help achieve this, greater adoption of the right technology to overcome language barriers can attract workers, boost morale, improve relationships, reduce mistakes and boost productivity.

In fact, according to statistics effective communication can increase an organisation’s productivity by 25%. This matters so much because a comparison of labour productivity across the G7 nations showed that in 2021 the UK’s output per hour worked was lower than France, Germany and the United States. It also found that the average output per worker for the G7 nations (excluding Japan and the UK) was 16% above the UK level in 2021. In view of this, improving communication to boost UK manufacturers’ productivity cannot be overlooked.

Jess O'Dwyer

Jess O'Dwyer, Pocketalk General Manager for Europe

Understanding different translation solutions 

Clearly there is a need for translation services to overcome language barriers in manufacturing environments, but this comes with significant costs and is not always quick and easy to implement. There are numerous technology-based translation solutions available that can take away some of these pain points - each translation option comes with its advantages and disadvantages.

For instance, research from Harvard Business School found that the average worker spends 31 hours per month in meetings. However, as mentioned above, failing to address language barriers can stifle communication and lower productivity in meetings and other collaborative communications. Therefore, digital translation devices like Pocketalk can be utilised to instantly translate 82 languages both in audio and text making it clear for the users what is being asked or said. These devices improve communication, reduce delays in translations and reduce the need for human interpreter costs. They are also HIPPA and GDPR compliant, alleviating any data privacy issues.

There are also free translation tools available that provide instant translations but there are issues with the effectiveness of the translations in some cases and GDPR compliance issues. These tools can often lack minority languages and it’s often those who speak those languages that are most impacted by the communication disconnect. 

In addition, there are phone translation services such as LanguageLine. This service can offer effective translations, however, waiting for a translator to assist in certain situations can take time and come with a hefty cost, neither of which may be practical for busy manufacturers.

Ultimately, there is no perfect ‘one size fits all’ solution for manufacturers to overcome language barriers in order to access new talent. But it is something that CEOs and senior managers of UK manufacturers need to think about carefully to find and recruit the staff that they need to fill their major labour shortages.


Jess O'Dwyer is the general manager for Europe, Pocketalk. Pocketalk is a multi-sensory two-way translation device. It utilises the best translation engines around the world to provide a consistently accurate experience across 82 languages, including localised dialects and slang.

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