Blog

Manufacturing Skills Crisis: Which UK Regions Have Been Worst-Hit?

Almost every UK industry has struggled to attract people with the right skills – but manufacturers have felt the pressure more than most in recent months. Long-standing labour challenges came to a head towards the end of 2021, due to a shortage of skilled workers from the EU after Brexit and COVID-19-related supply chain disruption.

With product and materials shortages to contend with too, meeting demand has been a constant struggle. People working in the industry had the most confidence they could find work elsewhere, and firms were forced to increase wages by as much as 14% at the start of the year to attract and retain staff, despite their margins being squeezed.

From food and drink, to engineering and automotive, manufacturers across the UK have experienced recruitment and retention difficulties for key roles such as production manager, quality control manager and product design engineer. And the problem is often even worse for many SMEs who generally can’t offer the same wages, incentives and career progression opportunities as the bigger firms.

Now new research from ECI Software Solutions has laid bare the extent of skills shortages in different parts of the UK – and the disparities between cities. We compared the number of manufacturing roles currently being advertised by companies in 60 cities around the UK with the number of job hunters searching for these roles online in each city.

Which cities are bearing the brunt of the skills crisis?

Rank

City

Number of job roles

Number of people searching for jobs

Percentage of vacancies that could be left unfilled

Approximate number of roles per applicant

1

Cambridge

342

50

85%

6.84

2

Bristol

316

60

81%

5.3

3

Salford

209

80

61%

2.61

4

Birmingham

170

70

58%

2.4

5

Newport

75

40

46%

1.88

6

Cardiff

71

40

43%

1.78

7

Bradford

70

40

42%

1.75

8

Belfast

66

40

39%

1.65

9

St Albans

87

60

31%

1.45

10

Oxford

171

120

30%

1.42

The university city of Cambridge is a centre for innovation, particularly in life sciences, pharmaceuticals and aerospace. More than 500 advanced and high-tech manufacturing firms are based in and around the city, and strong collaboration between industry and academia fuels innovation in both products and production processes.

Yet manufacturers in Cambridge appear to be struggling more than any other city to attract people into key roles, according to ECI’s analysis. We found that there are almost seven roles available for every potential applicant – which suggests some firms are now facing critical labour shortages.

Bristol, another university city, ranked second in the table with just over five vacancies for every person looking for manufacturing roles. The South-West is a world leader in aerospace, with 14 of the 15 world-leading aerospace companies being based in the region. It also benefits from more than 94,000 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) students across its four universities.

Like Cambridge, it has the skills to drive innovation but is struggling to fill essential shop floor vacancies. As our analysis shows, there are currently more than five manufacturing roles available for every job seeker, more than double that of the third-ranking city (Salford).

Commenting on the findings, Darren Toy, Product Director, Product Development, at ECI said:

“The UK is a leader in manufacturing innovation – but it can only fulfil its potential if it has a workforce that can deliver world-class products. Manufacturers right through the supply chain need to be properly-resourced in order to meet sudden surges in demand and, as we’ve seen recently, mitigate the impact of rising costs.”

But not every part of the UK is experiencing the same demand for candidates. In fact, according to our research, roles in some cities are over-subscribed.

The locations most oversubscribed for manufacturing jobs:

Rank

City

Number of job roles

Number of people searching for jobs

Approximate number of applicants per role

1

Derry

6

70

11.6

2

Durham

13

140

11

3

Bangor

3

30

10

4

Inverness

5

50

10

5

Canterbury

5

40

8

This demand is likely to be down to relatively high unemployment in some of these cities, compared to the rest of the country.

Derry, in Northern Ireland, topped the table in our study, with more than 11 potential applicants for every manufacturing job. The findings are no surprise given that, according to a report, one area of Derry had the worst employment rate in the UK, and the steepest decline in employment among 16 to 24-year-olds.

It’s a similar story in Durham, in the North-East of England, which has suffered higher levels of unemployment for years. Our research found that there are currently 140 people searching for 13 manufacturing roles, the equivalent of 11 per vacancy.

Darren Toy at ECI added:

“These figures suggest that manufacturers may benefit from locating or expanding into one of these cities, given how strong competition for skilled employees is in other parts of the UK. It presents a real opportunity to not only fill vacancies with willing employees but upskill them over the long-term to support business growth and provide quality jobs in often-forgotten communities.”

Overcoming a complex problem

The events that led to the labour crisis are a sign of just how fragile the labour market in manufacturing (and related industries) has become. For years, firms have grappled with challenges – including an ageing workforce and lack of skills, particularly in engineering. It’s also been plagued with negative perceptions that the work is physically demanding, inflexible and potentially dangerous.

“Changing people’s perceptions, and fostering homegrown talent after Brexit, won’t happen overnight,” said Darren Toy at ECI.

“Industry, government, colleges and trade organisations all have a role to play in promoting a career in manufacturing, particularly through apprenticeship schemes and training.

Manufacturing software is one of the most effective measures firms can take in tackling the skills crisis, and the benefits can be seen quickly. By making shop floor processes more efficient, manufacturers have the capacity to fulfil more orders, without relying so heavily on human labour. It’s also a way to minimise the impact of wage inflation and control costs, particularly in areas where demand for applicants is high.

“Unlike office-based roles, manufacturing requires staff to be on site but technology enables firms to be more flexible and inclusive.

“The ability to complete tasks digitally opens up opportunities for people to work from home more often, potentially attracting those who have caring responsibilities. We shouldn’t forget either that intuitive manufacturing ERP software can make firms more appealing to digitally-minded new recruits and helps them to achieve more in their career.”

Methodology

ECI used data from Indeed UK to discover the number of vacancies for manufacturing-related roles within five miles of each major city.

ECI then compared this with data from Google Keyword Planner to discover how many people in each city were searching for the manufacturing-related jobs.

ECI Staff Contributors

About the Author

ECI Staff Contributors love to share their insights and expertise on a variety of topics including sales, marketing, cloud, ERP, and SMB development as well as on product specific education. With offices throughout the United States, Mexico, England, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand, more than 40 employees contribute to blog on a regular basis.