Manufacturers Are Now Technologists: What Does This Mean for the Workforce?

Manufacturers Are Now Technologists: What Does This Mean for the Workforce?

Manufacturing’s transition to full digitisation is well underway, and it’s accelerating daily. Machines aren’t just doing physical work – they’re thinking, communicating and making predictions that can enhance workflows and streamline operations. This progress is amplifying the impact of digitisation on the human workforce.

The UK is the development centre of the manufacturing world. It’s the home of pioneering new ideas and innovations. As machines become more intelligent and organisations invest in smart factories, a whole new generation of manufacturing jobs have been created in Britain, for people to design, test and manage highly connected systems and innovations. Products themselves are increasingly being built outside the UK, as we can see in the automotive industry, with the closure of production plants across the country. Nonetheless, the UK’s manufacturing industry continues to thrive, as we drive the transition to intelligent manufacturing.

Almost half of all roles in manufacturing will need to change within the next three to five years, as the industry transitions to become fully digital. At the same time, it’s estimated that two million new manufacturing jobs will be created in the years ahead. But manufacturers are already reporting significant talent shortages. 81% of manufacturers are having trouble finding staff with the right qualifications and experience, and the manufacturing sector is facing its greatest skills shortage in 30 years. With new skill requirements emerging, these talent shortages will only be exacerbated if action isn’t taken now.

Future Manufacturing Workforce

To understand the action that needs to be taken to fill skill gaps, we must first understand where they are likely to emerge in the future workforce.

Our research found that 60% of the manufacturing workforce should be Producers. These are individuals who are responsible for output and making change happen. 24% of the workforce needs to be Pioneers. These people trailblaze the new ideas that will jumpstart transformation. Finally, 16% of your workers should be Keystones. This group enables their colleagues to adopt and execute on new strategies. Having the right blend of Producers, Pioneers and Keystones will be key.


Pioneer (24%)
Trailblazes the ideas
and processes


Keystone (16%)
Enables colleagues to adopt
and execute those strategies


Producer (60%)
Converts key resources
into outcomes

We also found that there are currently 165 different roles within manufacturing, distributed across seven domains: digital manufacturing, digital thread, digital enterprise, digital product, digital design, supply network and omni. Most of the new functions, such as a ‘collaborative robot specialist’ couldn’t have been imagined a decade ago.

Helping people and organisations navigate this rapid change will be far easier if employers, educators and policymakers collaborate on strategies to prepare both the current and future workforce for continuous change.

Upskilling And Reskilling The Workforce

With such extensive talent shortages across the manufacturing sector, companies cannot expect to easily find people to fill new job vacancies. Instead, they will need to build the skills they need, by upskilling and reskilling workers at pace and scale.

To prepare workers for the jobs of the future, we’ve found that short, focused upskilling programmes that last six months or less work best. Too much information presented over too long a time period can disengage employees. What’s more, it’s also important to repeat training or run refresher courses – these help to cement new knowledge, and aren’t a sign that the original training failed.

One way that manufacturers can upskill the workforce is through a Train to Fit programme. We’ll work with you to enhance the skills of your experienced workers who already have a range of technical and functional skills that are valuable to your business, but who have the aptitude to develop further specialist skills in emerging business areas. The programme helps manufacturers to build sustainable talent pipelines for IT roles where there are significant skills gaps, and can be easily scaled up and down in line with your production requirements.

Manufacturers can also consider hiring Employed Consultants – highly skilled specialists who bridge the gap between permanent and contract labour, and can potentially be used to upskill existing workers. Finally, a comprehensive organisational effectiveness solution – which encompasses employee assessments, career and talent development strategies, and leadership coaching – can help manufacturers become more efficient and successful in the changing world of work, boosting employee engagement and retention and reducing time-to-value.

The Long-Term View

As manufacturers continue to become technologists, upskilling and reskilling is important – but it clearly isn’t an instant solution to the workforce challenges employers face. Creating a culture of learning takes time, and results won’t be yielded overnight. Therefore, it’s important that manufacturers also consider more immediate enhancements that can be made to their recruitment process, to build the talent pipeline.

A Project RPO is one solution which should be considered. Outsource specific areas or your entire permanent hiring processes to a workforce solutions provider like ManpowerGroup, and they can make immediate enhancements to your talent pipeline. They can help you to identify and harness previously untapped talent pools and position your organisation as an employer of choice within advanced manufacturing. A dedicated team, white-labelled delivery, scalability, flexibility, improved candidate experience and employer brand management are just some of the vital benefits you can expect to realise.

Manufacturing is evolving. It’s not the dirty, dark and dangerous profession of the past. It’s advanced, digital and connected. Manufacturers are becoming technologists, and this is creating countless new skill requirements and job opportunities. Against a backdrop of talent shortages, delivering on these opportunities is clearly a challenge. But by collaborating on strategies to prepare the current and future workforce for continuous change, manufacturers can secure the talent they need to thrive.

To learn more about the impact of digitisation on the manufacturing industry, download our whitepaper The Future Factory: Mapping The Skills That Will Power Manufacturing.

Download The Report