Why lifelong learning is the key to closing the skills gap in 2020

How can manufacturing close the skills gap and ensure a more productive future for the industry?

As Industry 4.0 takes hold of the manufacturing industry, the workplace is undergoing a significant change. The introduction of new processes such as Additive Manufacturing has created a need to learn new skills at a rapid pace to keep up with the level of knowledge required to operate at maximum efficiency. In addition to this pressure is the fact that levels of adult participation in learning are declining at a time when they need to be on the increase. The current STEM job shortage is costing the UK an average of £1.5 bn per year. With STEM teaching at universities underway but unlikely to produce a considerable graduate workforce just yet, and depreciation in apprenticeship places, manufacturing is now finding itself blocked in its attempts to progress. So, how can manufacturing close the skills gap and ensure a more productive future for the industry? In this article I’d like to take a look at the benefits of – and barriers to – lifelong learning, and why training and development is the key to closing the gap in 2020.



The key to enabling progression and upturning the economy is to upskill the current workforce by embracing lifelong learning. Manufacturers are beginning to recognise that it’s not enough for their employees to have completed an NVQ in Engineering, or left university with a degree; employees need to upskill to be future-proof. Things change fast – and continuously striving to learn new skills means individuals are better equipped to deal with new technology and in a favourable position when seeking to climb the career ladder. Manufacturing businesses need to commit to training and developing their workforces. And from on-the-job training to specifically tailored courses delivered by external organisations, there are various ways of upskilling your workforce. The CBI recently called on employers to offer career advice to all their employees at regular intervals throughout their careers, improve clarity on internal career routes and set up default systems to offer new vacancies to internal employees, as well as promote awareness and accessibility of training and development opportunities. Have you considered career development and advice for your employees?


To clarify what is available for those wishing to invest in upskilling their workforce, lets take a moment to consider what lifelong learning options are available – Formal Learning – this is training leading to a recognised qualification or award. It is generally delivered through further or higher education institutions but can also include bespoke courses provided by training companies and delivered in-house. Non-formal Learning – this is structured learning that may include assessment but aims at upping the individual’s skill level without leading to a recognised qualification or award. Informal Learning – this refers to loosely structured learning which usually does not include assessment or lead to an award. This type of learning often includes on-the-job instruction by a mentor or colleague.


In addition to enabling your company to maximise technology with fully trained staff, studies have demonstrated that lifelong learning has positive outcomes for individuals too. Participation in learning activities has been shown to improve life satisfaction, well-being and self-confidence, and this is reflected in performance at work – upping productivity and morale across your workforce. Additionally, a report by the Government Office for Science suggests that increasing the skills of the UK workforce could add £80 billion to the economy, as well as improving employability opportunities for older workers.


Attention to detail is a critical part of most jobs. And in an industry where speed and precision is often a priority, the ability to focus on your work and pay attention to detail is paramount – not only accuracy but for safety. After all, a lack of awareness when operating machinery can lead to disastrous outcomes for you and your coworkers.


If you are thinking about upskilling your workforce, remember that investment in training your employees is an investment in your business’s future. Creating a workforce of skilled employees will see an increase in individual work satisfaction and help increase loyalty and retention rates for your business. Additionally, it will enable you to put your manufacturing business at the forefront of technological advances and embrace all that Industry 4.0 has to offer a progressive company.