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Innovative. Flexible. Inclusive.

By Chatter, on 18th April 2024

Imagine reading a job ad that began like this…


“We’re part of the industry of choice for graduates and school leavers, and we’re leading the way with fast-moving careers on the cutting edge of innovation. 

It’s an incredibly exciting place to be. Not least because many of our people are shifting from working on-site or in factories to roles in modern design offices, using the latest AI and digital tools. 

Diversity in our workforce is higher than it’s ever been, too. We’re a first choice for women, and our talented people have joined us from around the world - and from all education backgrounds and disciplines.

Just as importantly, it’s flexible, there are lots of opportunities for remote working, and there’s a real emphasis on work life balance and wellness.” 


Sounds great, right? And just the kind of place most of us would love to join. But would you be surprised if I told you I was talking about Manufacturing, Construction and Engineering?

The truth is, it’s still a future vision. But it’s one that MC&E businesses know they need to embrace to meet demands. In fact, manufacturing alone is on track for 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, when the last Baby Boomers (currently making up about a quarter of manufacturing’s workforce) will reach retirement age. Construction and Engineering has a similar narrative with a projected need for 284,000 skilled workers by 2030. Add this to the 500,000 (about 25% of the workforce) expected to retire within the next 10 -15 years, and it will leave a significant shortfall. 

Not to mention a challenge that needs to be met head on.


Here’s the big problem

These industries are perceived as being labour-intensive, that they have a ‘hard hat’ image, and that they’re lacking in innovation. 

On the flip side, we know that Gen Z workers are digital natives, who have grown up in a world of technology and TED talks. They’re coming to the workforce with a strong and idealistic view on how they want to work, they’re looking for a business that has strong environmental and social values.

What’s more, the view that these industries are male dominated and seen as a hostile working environment for women largely still remains. 

The truth is somewhat different. MC&E businesses have undoubtedly evolved and are leveraging technology like automated design, prefab manufacturing, 3D printing and robots. They’re also introducing initiatives to attract women, while improving their policies, and working practices.

But even with this kind of forward thinking in place, it’s still mostly viewed as a boots on the ground (or boots on the factory floor) kind of workplace.

Unfortunately, that contributes to a huge skills gap. And the only way to close it is to change decades of societal sentiment. 


In the words of Taylor Swift, it’s time to “shake it off”

As we say, there’s a brand new story emerging when it comes to working in Manufacturing, Construction and Engineering. We just need to shake the old one off.

If we want to change perceptions, it’s vitally important to get this new story out there. That means talking about MC&E as an innovative, alternative place to work, where employees face new challenges daily and think up ideas that make people’s lives better. 

This is the kind of thing that will help close that skills gap. And it’s something that attraction and talent marketing campaigns should be used to showcase.


So, what are the other proof points?

Did you know that the manufacturing sector accounts for 60% of all business research and development spend in the UK? Or that construction and engineering play a vital role in us achieving net zero emissions and reducing global warming? With that kind of data, it’s easy to imagine that roles in MC&E really can and do enable people to make a difference.

It’s also true that inclusivity drives innovation. That means creating a culture that is inclusive to all isn’t just critical - it’s intrinsic to the reason why this industry exists: to innovate.

It’s not enough to simply take one demographic in isolation and focus all our attention there. Instead it’s about seeing the bigger picture for everyone, and creating a culture where people can be themselves and thrive within it.

Much of the work I’ve done in these industries over the last 2 years has involved breaking the myth that flexible working isn’t accessible for front-line staff. Is it difficult? Sometimes yes. Is it possible? Also a huge yes. It just takes a bit of creative thinking to build in agility and a culture that enables people to try new things.

Because shifting to new and balanced ways of working is what ultimately helps to attract diverse talent. 


How do we bring in those skills?

Closing the gap isn’t just about understanding why there’s a skills shortfall in the MC&E industries. It’s also about identifying the skills we need - and how we bring them in.

Of course, leaders of the future will need some technical capability. But more importantly, they need to be collaborative and innovative to enable these new technologies to succeed. These are skills that are commonplace across most other sectors.

Something else in the MC&E industry's favour is that longer working lives will mean that 50-year careers increasingly become the norm. Plus, the Learning and Work Institute reported that 1.7 million people switched sectors in the UK in 2023 alone. And initiatives like Apprenticeship programmes are no longer just for young people, either.

It all means people are now actively looking for opportunities to update their skills as they change jobs and careers multiple times in their lifetimes. And there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do that in MC&E, as much as any other sector.

But perhaps the big takeaway is that career programmes shouldn’t solely focus on Gen Z in isolation - instead, they should include everyone.


It’s time to innovate - all over again

One way or another, it’s a focus on people, and the skills they can bring or build, that will determine the long term success of businesses in MC&E. 

Without doubt, it will take a concerted effort to change the perceptions of what a career in this sector looks like. But it’s up to individual businesses to evolve their cultures and operations to tell this new story of what the sector offers.

The simple reality is that it’s time to innovate all over again. Not just with those modern design offices using the latest AI and digital tools - but in the way the industry attracts, recruits and retains talent.



Jude Harvey is an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion consultant on a mission to show companies that the right people culture and ED&I strategy can be a driving force for success. With over 25 years’ multi-sector experience and a solid background in HR, Jude helps FTSE 250 companies, SMEs and Third Sector Not for Profits across all sectors, to bring culture change and ED&I into their everyday strategy, working with them to design, deliver and educate people.

Jude Harvey

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