Skills & leadership


The availability of the right skills is essential for the adoption of the advanced manufacturing technologies that will enable rapid and sustainable improvements in productivity.

While we recognise the importance and focus on attracting new entrants into engineering through apprenticeships or academic training, it is equally important to consider the development of the existing workforce by placing equal importance on developing upskilling and reskilling programmes.

This means that we need more people with the right skills and those skills are not the same as the skills of the past, or those skills need to be applied to delivering different solutions.

That is why tackling the skills gap – both of the overall shortage of people who want to work in manufacturing and of people with the right skills for now and the future has to be at the heart of any Midlands’ manufacturing strategy.

many sub-sectors, the skills required to adapt and innovate will be similar, and in some cases, even the same. As our industry looks to fill these skills gaps, manufacturers must articulate not just the job role they require, but the necessary technical and transferable skills needed to carry out that role successfully.


Whilst the Midlands has the capability to adapt to change and to respond to challenges, it often lacks the confidence, belief and industrial leadership to do so. However, when that is put in the context of a global pandemic, not only was it able to adapt, it actively embraced that change.

The challenge now is to maintain this level of agility, flexibility, and responsiveness, by identifying and removing the barriers which inhibit the ability to adapt to change.

It is widely accepted that the key to enabling cross sectorial work or shifting between sectors starts with leadership – having quality leaders who are prepared to risk moving outside their comfort zone and giving their teams permission to do things differently.

It would be a mistake to assume that the skills challenge we face is purely about technical skills. In fact, there is strong agreement across the industry that there is a pressing need to increase the level of capability and leadership across management roles. Whatever the size of the company, they all need inspirational and confident leaders to embrace the pace of change and to inspire the current and future workforce.

As more manufacturers edge towards a digital reality, embracing the considerable change this will require visionary and bold leadership. Unsurprisingly, the Made Smarter Commission found “…a lack of effective leadership of industrialisation in the UK” as the biggest barrier preventing the UK from fully embracing Industrial Digitalisation Technologies (IDTs). However, innovative management is not just about embracing change in relation to technology, it is also about inspiring the workforce.

Skills gaps are often discussed but identifying and developing a skilled workforce is often only part of the challenge. It is also important to develop leadership skills, including technology awareness and an understanding of the benefits of technology adoption.

To see the full list of chapters contained in the Report click here.

"A targeted Midlands’ skills programme promoting specific topics, including apprenticeship schemes, reshaping university degrees, targeted graduate programmes, upskilling and leadership programmes, could provide a pilot for the future, particularly if industry and academia work together to define best practice and match candidate skills with strategic business requirements."

Dick Elsy CBE

High Value Manufacturing Catapult