It is no secret that the construction & manufacturing sectors are suffering from a massive skills shortage fuelled by the pandemic as well as the growth of construction activity in Ireland. As open positions across Ireland remain unfilled, it is forcing companies into crisis management mode as the industry stands at a crossroads.
Here Gabe McArdle, Technical Sales Manager at leading architectural facades firm, Spanwall Facades Ltd. discusses how, in the face of unprecedented pressure, firms must adapt or risk extinction.
The skills shortage across the industry has been well documented and as firms continue to face unprecedented challenges, the stark reality is that time is running out for manufacturing firms who hope to grow. To futureproof their business, firms must rethink how they operate whilst adjusting to a new normal in the wake of mass change.
Advancements in technology have shaken up traditional industry expectations and, manufacturing firms who have always been at the forefront of innovation, are certainly embracing this, creating intelligent solutions that are transforming the design landscape. However, if the technology is to be harnessed to its fullest effect, we need people with the right skills – this is key to driving the industry forward.
The cause of the manufacturing skills shortage
Construction activity throughout the island has grown rapidly over recent years but with roles remaining unfilled paired with fluctuating materials costs, it is seeming less likely that the government will reach its 2030 home construction and retrofitting targets.
The stark reality is that the industry is still feeling the effects of the global financial crisis which seen significant numbers of Irish workers retrain or emigrate with many not returning. This has created long-term implications – in particular a lack of middle management level workers.
Another reason is that workers aren’t entering the industry as fast as experienced workers are leaving, leading to unfilled roles and a knowledge gap. As well as this there is still an outdated perception that a career in manufacturing equals work that is monotonous and low-paid – meaning it has low appeal for young people planning their future. In fact, quite the opposite is true, with many manufacturers, including those in Ireland, leading the way in technological advancements as robotics, AI, automation, and 3D printing become integral parts of the design and manufacturing process. These more lucrative roles certainly provide better career development opportunities. However, as we stand currently, there aren’t enough people with the skills to meet the ever-growing demand.
An innovative approach
Smart manufacturing is certainly not a new trend, with companies across the country having already adopted automated or semi-automated technologies. To combat labour shortages on construction sites, off-site fabrication is also becoming increasingly popular throughout the industry. At Spanwall we offer ‘unitised’ solutions which have the benefit of reducing logistics and build time.
Technology is developing at a pace never seen before, providing the manufacturing sector with massive opportunities to change how we consider design, and it is predicted we have not even scratched the surface of what’s ultimately possible. By investing in these advancements, it allows firms to automate many labour intensive positions, replacing them with roles that require a higher level of skill and competence. Although this leads to the age-old debate of ‘are robots taking our jobs’ the simple truth is that we still need people to co-exist and compliment the technological investment, therefore it should be seen as a catalyst for the creation of new jobs.
As well as this, technology enables firms to increase productivity levels and create smarter products leading to increased customer satisfaction.
Expectedly, these advancements will produce a new skills barrier as firms find themselves requiring a new skillset from their workforce – showcasing the critical importance of upskilling and developing employees.
Creating a multi-skilled workforce
If firms are to survive the skills credit crunch, they must look within their own business. The pulse of any firm is its people. Implementing bespoke in-house training, will enable firms to tackle the skills crisis by upskilling employees. However, they should also focus on creating multi-skilled employees who can carry out a range of activities within the business. Following this path will enable organisations to build the skills they need as well as helping to retain talent through their commitment and investment in employees’ development.
Manufacturers in Ireland have proven themselves to be resilient, innovative, and adaptable in the face of rapid change. Big Pharma and IT have benefited from this for over 30-years, manufacturing construction product may not always have gotten the focus it should have which has contributed to the current situation. We certainly have the tools to navigate these unprecedented waters. However, if firms are to succeed, they must act now, embracing technological innovations and investing in their workforce. Training and upskilling are not new ideas, with many firms having firm policies in place for employee development. However, they do not come without their own challenges with businesses citing time constraints and lack of resources as some of the barriers to successful upskilling.
One thing is evident, there is no quick fix for the skills gap with many issues needing addressed. What the industry needs is collaborative action across education, business, and government to create a viable, long-term solution. Only by adopting a collective approach combined with introducing new measures internally, can we emerge from this crisis, stronger and better than ever. By failing to do so, firms could suffer damaging consequences, or even extinction as they combat to remain competitive in an ever-evolving market.