Manufacturing sector vows to tackle talent shortage head on

  • • More than 60% of NI manufacturing businesses report growth but struggle to recruit roles
    • Just 6% of young people see manufacturing as a career option
    • Only one in five of manufacturing workforce are female

    The outdated image of Manufacturing as a dirty, unsatisfying job, with long hours, poor pay and few professional development opportunities, is a far cry from the reality of companies like Denroy Plastics who spoke at the Manufacturing Talent Rules Summit in Belfast.

    Following the sector-wide Summit attended by more than 150 people representing Northern Ireland’s most influential manufacturers, led by QUB Faculty for Engineering and Physical Sciences, supported by First Trust Bank and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council; it was acknowledged that the sector needs to come together and change the perception of manufacturing if we are to maintain and grow a vibrant economy.

    As a result, Northern Ireland’s manufacturers are set to tackle a growing talent shortage with a series of hard-hitting actions being developed in the coming months in conjunction with the Centre for Competitiveness and QUB Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences.

    Claire McAlinden, Operations Director for the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences who came from a successful career in manufacturing with Procter and Gamble, said:

    “We see our goal as helping our manufacturing sector become a world leader by supplying top-class graduate talent, by providing cutting-edge research and innovation and working with the sector to ensure it is one of the most highly regarded in the world. That future revolves around talent and we will continue to work in close partnership with industry to maintain the flow of graduates equipped with the right type of skills to meet demand. We will also continue to support the sector by helping upskill those in work to make sure the sector’s investment in talent is as effective as possible.”

    A challenge being taken up by Anne Donaghy, Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council whose area, which has a proud reputation as a manufacturing powerhouse, is successfully fighting back following the loss of major employers Michelin and JTI Gallagher.

    “Our focus is creating an advanced manufacturing ecosystem for Mid and East Antrim and Northern Ireland and I am committed to doing everything I can to bring Northern Ireland to new industry standards when it comes to our manufacturing sector.
    “Collaboration is absolutely key to achieving this and we are working closely with our partners, including the private sector, business and industry, and our universities to address the need and fully capitalise on opportunities to increase our skills, realise our potential and grow our economy.”

    Recognising the role of financial and business advisory support required for every size of manufacturer throughout the Province, Brian Gillan, Head of Corporate and Business Banking at First Trust Bank, was clear that this is a priority for his team.

    “Manufacturing companies play a vital role within the Northern Ireland economy and we are investing in the sector over the longer term. We have a £500m AIB (UK) Manufacturing Lending Fund available and Business Centre, Acquisitions and Corporate Banking colleagues who have completed a Manufacturing Awareness Programme delivered by the University of Warwick. This training programme combined in-depth teaching on topics such as Supply Chain Management, Manufacturing Finance and Industry 4.0, with on-site visits to market-leading, innovative manufacturers. To find out more on how we can help please talk to our Manufacturing sector specialists Ann McSorley ( or Sean Connolly (”

    Picking up on the optimism for addressing change, keynote speakers from Denroy, Avondale Foods, Procter and Gamble, Collins Aerospace, Thales, Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottlers and Moyola Precision Engineering, all called for a better definition of Manufacturing.
    They also recognised that proactive collaboration was the only way to engage with schools, students and parents to demonstrate that Manufacturing was even more attractive as a career than Tech and more accessible to upskilling on the job.

    “Manufacturing offers a diverse range of rewarding, well-paid career opportunities and a dynamic, digitally focused learning environment. The sector punches way above its weight economically and has suffered by being a best kept secret. We look forward to showcasing the fast-paced, tech rich reality of manufacturing to schools, returners and people currently working outside the industry. 2019 is shaping up to be the year that public perception starts catching up with reality” explained Susan Cleland, Deputy CEO of the Centre for Competitiveness as they implement the actions called for at the Summit.

    Partners for the Summit were First Trust Bank, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Avondale Foods, Denroy, Inspire Business Centre, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, ASM, ASG, Balcas, Belfast Harbour, Bombardier, Belfast City Council, Collins Aerospace, Coca Cola Hellenic Bottlers, Dale Farm, Fabraco, Forde Campbell LLC, Hyster Yale, the Lycra Company, McAvoy Group, Moyola Precision Engineering, Terex and Thales. The summit was also supported by Lean In (Belfast) and Young Enterprise Northern Ireland.

    Source: Press release

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