Manufacturing skills shortages a worldwide problem and action is needed

October 25, 2019




In its 2019 World Manufacturing Forum Report: Skills for the Future of Manufacturing, the World Manufacturing Forum lists ten “key recommendations” to address the skills gap problems that are facing manufacturing worldwide. “The skills gap phenomenon is one of the most pressing issues faced by the industry today, reinforcing the need for industries to evolve in light of new technologies brought upon by rapid digitalisation in manufacturing,” states the report’s foreword. “In addition, societal megatrends such as ageing workers compound the complexity of tackling the skills challenge, increasing the need for more creative solutions.”


These recommendations include creating a manufacturing market with a life-long learning mindset; increasing investment in workforce education to achieve the full potential of the new technologies; enacting policies that promote manufacturing workforce education and training; exciting people to pursue careers in manufacturing; and developing new profiles with technical expertise completed by generalist know-how. The remaining five recommendations are employing digital technologies to innovate in the delivery of education and training; supporting social mobility through manufacturing; making sure that relevant skills are being taught; heightening the value of vocational technical education and training; and encouraging collaboration to address skills development needs.





Regarding a life-long learning mindset, the report urges workers to actively search for opportunities for life-long learning. Governments and employers must create incentives, both personal and professional, for workers to undertake such training. And workers must be empowered by being involved in the design of the training.

When it comes to increasing investment in workforce education, businesses should prioritise the education and training of their employees. Skilled workers are essential to fully exploit the new technologies. Also, they should be employed in ways that complement the new technologies, and should be trained to be able to fulfil these new roles.


However, such worker education and training has to be encouraged. Those governments which do not already do so should implement subsidies, tax incentives and individual credits to incentivise training. Ideally, these policies should be detached from party politics so that they continue, regardless of changes in administration. And these policies should be designed to take into account the needs of all the stakeholders – workers, companies and educators.

The manufacturing industry also needs good publicity. Modern manufacturing needs to be promoted as what it is: a dynamic and fast-moving sector. The sector needs to reach out early to young people, and to their parents and teachers, to eliminate the negative impressions (among all these groups) that manufacturing still suffers from.


It is also important to stress the importance of both specialist and generalist skills. Specialist skills provide deep knowledge, while generalist knowledge provides interdisciplinary understanding. Technical expertise can become outdated and needs updating. Generalist knowledge can be facilitated through the use of modern technology.

In turn, digital technologies should be used to allow the innovative provision of education and training. Collaborative platforms should be used to allow knowledge and best practice sharing. Technology should be employed to surmount cognitive, physical and other obstacles to learning. Digital tools should be used to permit learning anywhere and anytime.


“As a leader in uplifting lives, manufacturing must continue to strive to support social mobility,” states the report. This can be done, it affirms, by widening the talent pool for the sector by working with communities that are currently not represented in the sector. All should have equitable access to education. And nondiscriminatory job practices should be championed by the sector. 






Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER


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