The manufacturing sector continues to be dominated by change, with particular reference to AI and automation either aiding or replacing a variety of job types. It is important to recognise that AI and automation can be positive additions to a business, and create opportunities for professionals who choose to embrace them into their everyday. 

Our expert consultants have a unique insight into the skills your business might need to excel in the year ahead. We have amalgamated the top 10 skills set to drive the manufacturing sector forward in 2020.

1. Supplier development

Collaboration is crucial in business and working together with suppliers, whilst building positive professional relationships, will improve your manufacturing capacity and reduce costs across the board. Managing costs with a consistent supply strategy is key in the manufacturing sector. As the possibilities of industry 4.0 and innovations in AI become ever more apparent, the manufacturing sector has never been more digitally connected. In turn, this is presenting greater opportunities for real supplier development. With customer expectations rising, it is important to have skilled professionals in this area who can manage the process effectively.

2. Agile practices/processes

The ongoing uncertainty in today's market has created the need for better agility in working practices and manufacturing processes. Today's world is constantly changing, as are consumer needs and technological advances. With this in mind, if you don't have an operation that can flex accordingly, it will struggle to outperform its competitors. This extends to the organisation's ability to build a multi-skilled workforce that can operate cross-functionally where needed. It will no longer be good enough to just go to market for the right skills, you will have to look at constantly developing your people to develop the business.

3. Continuous improvement

Businesses cannot afford to believe that their current way of working doesn't need to be assessed and improved. The world is constantly changing, and it isn't slowing down. You should embed continuous improvement into the culture of the organisation at all levels. Even the most efficient operations can always find ways to drive down costs and increase margins through innovation. Empower your individuals to challenge the status quo. If your teams adopt this way of behaving and operating, you will see your business thrive.

4. Leading diverse teams

There has never been such a focus on diversity and inclusion in the workforce, and it comes in many guises in the modern world. Whilst this is a huge positive across the board, it also presents a challenge to line managers and business leaders; how do you effectively manage a diverse workforce whilst capitalising on the culture it creates to drive towards commercial objectives? Strong and adaptable leaders know how to develop individuals and implement strategies that are able to evolve with the pace of technological, societal, and business change.

5. Data-led decision making

In today's market, it isn't uncommon for organisations to work in increasingly data-rich environments. Whilst data gathering is important, the real skill comes in knowing which data is important enough to build strategies on and make key decisions around as a result. People with the skills to decipher key information and subsequently change behaviours and strategies accordingly are becoming highly sought-after. Not only is there more data available, but more of it is in real-time, which allows an increased speed of change and adaptation.

6. Speed of change

The ability to adapt to changes in market demand is critical to commercial success. This is because the speed of technological advances continues to increase. The need to shorten product lifecycles increases the pressure on manufacturing organisations to improve their product development processes. The automotive sector is an example of this; after years of product evolution, the Electric Vehicle (EV) revolution is upon us. EV platforms architecture and technology are massively different from traditional petrol or diesel vehicles, and the automotive supply chain is under considerable pressure to adapt - or lose market share to more technologically-focused organisations.

7. Supply and demand planning

Supply and demand form the bedrock of business - and whilst technological change is radically altering the output of many modern manufacturing operations, this traditional principle remains. As the pace and variety of many manufacturing organisations continue to increase, it becomes more and more critical to balance supply and demand parameters. Economic pressure to manufacture exactly what is required promptly, further increases the need to balance supply and demand, as holding raw materials/components or finished stock increases the risk of financial exposure. For this reason, professionals with supply and demand planning skills are crucial in a manufacturing operation.

8. Stakeholder management 

Working with people, and more importantly, managing those professional relationships efficiently and productively, is a skill that is highly valued in the manufacturing function. This is particularly pertinent in an environment that is built on processes, many of them linear. With the continued adaptation of how people communicate at work, stakeholders are now able to do much of the legwork that would require client-side input previously. This is freeing up time for manufacturing professionals to focus on the strategical rather than the administrative.

9. Regulations expertise

In the ever-changing market that we find ourselves in, your teams must keep abreast of all changes that may be occurring in their business and the wider sector. Having knowledge and understanding of IR35, potential changes caused by Brexit, and increased electrification that is bound to strike the sector soon, in terms of automotive, aerospace, and general manufacturing, will enable your business to be adaptable and ready for the future. There is now more change than ever before, at a faster rate. This means that the ability to understand and manage complex legislation is business critical.

10. Sales and operation planning

Sales and operation planning (S&OP) can drive efficiency and enable the development of robust plans and schedules that can benefit teams and the wider business. Being sure you have a comprehensive and actionable plan is crucial to ensure business progression. Finding professionals with skills in these areas, who can showcase their experience here, will help to manage customer expectations, drive a higher OTIF rate, and save time that may have otherwise been wasted.

At Michael Page, we have access to an extensive database of top professionals looking for new opportunities who can drive your business forward in 2020, and beyond. For a confidential discussion about how we can help you to hire and retain the best talent with the right skills to fill your vacancy, get in touch with one of our specialist recruitment consultants today.