Expert Manufacturing Advice tailored for step-by-step implementation in the workplace. Small Manufacturers, Machine Shops and CAD Engineers improve and thrive with our hands-on help. Skills Shortage Solutions: Personal Training Plans, On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeships Skills Shortage Apprenticeships

Skills Shortage Solutions:
Personal Training Plans, On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeships

Skills Shortage Apprenticeships


OK, so here are more things you can do to combat the skills shortage at your company…

Understand and List the Skills You Need

You need to know what skills you require and where there are any gaps. Team by team, talk to staff and list the skills needed across the company. Some of the information will already be captured in job descriptions. However those who actually do the job will be able to comprehensively list all skills necessary to undertake the work.

For each team or department it is also useful to understand who knows what skills and to what level. For a given task who is an expert, who has medium level skills and who has basic knowledge. Collecting this information will then reveal where you have skills gaps, where you are thin on skills and possibly require resilience, and who is available to train others (the experts).

Listing this information makes it visible. Once it is visible you can then plan how best to fill skills gaps, increase resilience and train others. In addition, this enables you to retain valuable knowledge and skills necessary to maintain competitive advantage over your rivals. Just by getting this ‘company training plan’ in place you’ll be ahead of the pack, as according to the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technology (Semta), only a third of companies they represented started last year with a training plan.

Personal Training Plans

Once the business has a clear idea of what skills it has, what it needs and who has them, it is in a position to do something about it. Clearly companies need a well trained workforce to avoid the pitfalls listed earlier. One of the best ways to achieve this is through joint responsibility between employer and employee. This is because both the business and the individual have a vested interest in maintaining and increasing skills. In-turn this increases the chance of training taking place. 

Personal Development Plans outline what skills each member of staff require, how training will be obtained and by when. Importantly they demonstrate a commitment to employees, which makes a job attractive and increases staff employability, which is why individuals like them. From the business point of view, they are a structured method of ensuring you get the skills you need to thrive. Because skills have been identified, you can methodically work towards closing skills gaps and building resilience. Also you possess the information about who knows what, so you can match experts to trainees.

On-The-Job Training

Try pairing experienced staff with trainees or those new to a particular task. The trainee shadows the master, learning step-by-step how to undertake the role. This is best undertaken according to a documented plan where tasks are sequenced one at a time. This keeps training consistent and reduces the chance of bad habits been passed on. Instructions including images and text work well. Check sheets can be used to ensure all activities are covered to the correct standards.

What often works best is clear communication, together with an environment where questions are encouraged. Training should be undertaken in bite-sized chunks, each being repeated to build competence. On the job training works well for small manufacturers as it is based around your specialist tasks. Significantly, it is also low cost.


Apprenticeships, provided by the National Apprenticeship Service, enable companies to develop the skills they require. Apprentices train and learn on the job, building up their skills and undertaking real work. The apprentice earns a fair wage (normally less than the cost of recruiting somebody at the market rate) whilst working towards a nationally recognised qualification, typically on day release at college. Apprentices can be any age, from young people gaining new skills, to more mature candidates’ re-skilling and changing career.

Apprenticeships are available in a wide range of industry and commercial sectors. Engineering and manufacturing technologies are worthy of note (click here). Apprenticeships can be undertaken at three levels – intermediate, advanced and higher. Once an apprenticeship has been completed, many candidates go on to gain further qualifications and take more senior positions within the company. There is currently a growing appreciation of the value of apprenticeships. This is long overview. For many, they offer a debt-free alternative to university, where candidates rapidly accelerate their careers due to their real world knowledge and application of expertise in the workplace.

The quality, depth and duration of apprenticeship are important. Fortunately the host company can influence the structure of the apprenticeship, ensuring the applicant gets the right skills. For small manufacturers, apprenticeship grants are available. This removes some of the financial risk. Current apprenticeship vacancies are listed on the National Apprenticeship Service website for forward looking businesses who have invested in their future. If you haven’t done so already – shouldn’t you be?


Taught Technical Skills

Many successful manufacturing businesses are built on specialist technical knowledge. The products or services they offer remain competitive as they are the result of detailed research and development, which is underpinned by theoretical (sometimes academic) knowledge. Building on this skill base is seen as an investment by the company, as it ensures the organisation can maintain existing products and develop future ones. As such, training for those involved in these high-end skills may often take the form of taught knowledge.

In the short term know-how may be acquired through short courses. For more in-depth expertise over the medium and longer term, engineering undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are available. Significantly projects included in any of these qualifications should be linked to direct improvements or on-going projects within the host company. Academic partners (local colleges, universities or online through distance learning) provide a wealth of information on the range of courses and taught modules available, together with their costs. Often qualifications are modular so they can be undertaken in units and built up over time, enabling them to be planned around the needs of the business and the individual.

Back to Skills Shortage is Critical 

If there is such a shortage of engineers, why aren’t engineering salaries shooting through the roof? What do you think?

We constantly hear about the skills shortage in engineering and high-end manufacturing? Well according to the laws of supply and demand, a shortage of anything should increase its value. So why aren’t engineering salaries sky rocketing as a result? Or are they? What do you think?

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