THE BLOG

The Real Skills Shortage in UK Manufacturing is Leadership

09/06/2014 13:28 BST | Updated 06/08/2014 10:59 BST

"UK Manufacturing growth threatened by skills shortage" screeches the boringly repetitive and lazy headline. I keep seeing this story and I take issue with it for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it usually involves the directors of major corporations blaming universities, politicians and even prospective employees themselves, for their organisation's failings, i.e. a lack of growth.

Secondly, putting aside the lazy journalism that deems an unsubstantiated quote newsworthy, there is a much more serious and nuanced issue being masked here.

In fact, it is what is not being said that really interests me.

In order to claim that the growth of an organisation is limited by a skills shortage suggests a number of assumptions.

You must know which skill exactly is limited your organisations growth. In the articles I have read it is often engineering that is cited as being in short supply. In most of the articles these engineers are to be tasked with new product development.

Therefore the leaders of these organisations have come to the conclusion that they have maximised the sales of existing products and have spare manufacturing capacity. Capacity that will be utilised by the sale of new products.

I'll even let them have that one, that may well be necessary.

The thrust of my challenge is that the leaders who are claiming the skills shortage are tacitly claiming that they are utilising their engineering resources as effectively as possible.

My experience working in some of the world's largest organisations (FTSE 100, Fortune 100) and some of the world's most high tech (Formula 1, Oil & Gas) tells me nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact the process of new product development in most of these organisations wastes a huge amount of engineering hours due to poorly specified projects and mis-synchronisation across departments.

Typically these organisations could easily achieve an additional 20%-30% additional output within a couple of months by simply changing the way they manage their new product development processes - with no additional recruitment costs.

It takes humility and courage to seek out new ways of doing things and these qualities are the hallmarks of good leadership. This is the real skills shortage in UK manufacturing.

Time for these leaders to take responsibility and ask themselves is there really nothing else they can do to improve.