Manufacturers looking to ‘North Star’ leaders who are more ‘human’ and ‘holistic’

Published:  01 December, 2022

Britain’s manufacturing companies are looking for the next generation of leaders to be more human, with better motivational and communication skills and, the ability to connect with employees and take a more holistic view of the business according to a recent survey published by Make UK and Rockwell.

With short-term challenges including the energy crisis, on-going labour shortages and economic difficulties, together with long-term challenges such as the race to net zero and improve productivity it is now more crucial than ever for leaders in manufacturing to step up to the challenge.

Furthermore, in an era when employees are placing a greater premium on diversity, inclusion and equality, and investors increasingly considering environmental and social governance factors, managers and leaders need to be able to drive change in a way that takes all stakeholders with them.

Commenting, Verity Davidge, director of policy at Make UK, said:

“Given the challenges companies are facing, the increasing complexity of modern manufacturing and the demands of employees and investors, management and leadership skills have never been more important for manufacturers.

“As a result, companies are moving away from relying on just the technical skills to get the job done or, rewarding length of service, and towards those employees who make better humans. Motivation, ambition and communication skills, together with the ability to act as a ‘North Star’ to employees, are now seen as far more import attributes in leaders and managers of the next generation.”

Phil Hadfield, UK managing director for Rockwell Automation, added:

“It’s clear that one of the major challenges for manufacturing now and over the coming years will be skills gaps in the workforce. We are already seeing this challenge met with the more widespread use of innovations such as augmented reality, virtual reality, independent cart technology and artificial intelligence to turn raw data in to contextualised ‘real time’ information to enable digital workers.

“Digital technology will be key in helping UK manufacturers address workforce challenges head on, meet their KPIs and remain competitive in the global marketplace. I’m excited for the future as I see this inflection point as a real opportunity for UK manufacturing.”

According to the survey over two thirds of companies (67%) said that there was a shortage of management and leadership skills within their business. Conversely, however, companies were well aware of the critical need for these type of skills with three quarters saying they were key to improving productivity and almost four fifths (78%) saying they were key to increasing sales and orders.

Furthermore, the need for managers and leaders to have a forward thinking outlook was backed by 80% of companies saying they were key to implementing new and greener technologies and more than four fifths (83%) saying an effective leader was key to implementing diversity, inclusion and equality.

In order to drive change and address these issues, employers are placing less of a premium on technical skills (52%) professional qualifications (19%) and length of service (14%). Instead, more than four fifths of companies (85%) said people skills were critical, 83% referred to ambition and attitude and almost two thirds (64%) an understanding of the wider organisation and strategy.

The survey shows that companies overwhelmingly use external consultants (43%) to train the next generation of leaders with one in five using degrees, including MBAs, and a similar number using Apprenticeships. With a significant amount of the Apprentice Levy funds going unspent Make UK believes there is an opportunity to use some of these funds to support greater levels of leadership and management training.

By company size as a manufacturer grows their reliance on external consultants decreases and use of MBAs, University Degrees and the Government’s Help to Grow scheme increases. Almost a third of larger companies (29%) of larger companies used MBAs compared to just over one in ten smaller companies (11%).

The survey of 232 companies was carried out between 7 and 28 October

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