Skilled Trades: The Gap Between Perception and Reality
Oct 26, 2023

Working in the skilled trades is a highly respected career in the UK. According to the 3M "State of Science Index 2023" (SOSI) study, 94% of the respondents believe that the labour market urgently needs more skilled trade professionals, and 94% think that skilled trades positively impact society. However, 76% (SOSI 2022) do not feel inclined to pursue a career in skilled trades themselves. Economic factors are not the primary deterrent with almost half (74% - SOSI 2022) of Brits believing they would earn as much in a craft profession as in a career requiring a university degree. Meanwhile, 11% (SOSI 2022) of those not working in a craft-related profession state that the lack of options for career advancement is what prevents them from choosing this career path.

Skills shortage as an opportunity for employees

There is a lack of awareness about the career opportunities that a skilled trade can provide and what role digital skills play within the industry. It is crucial to dismiss these misconceptions, as the ongoing skills shortage poses a challenge for employers across the UK. The respondents also see this, with 92% expecting negative consequences if the UK does not find a solution to the shortage of skilled workers. These concerns range from economic consequences to neglected public infrastructure, declining quality of life, and rising costs for building and maintaining homes. At the same time, the shortage of skilled workers means that employees are becoming more flexible in terms of education and career paths, and a wide variety of positions in the skilled trades are available to them.

3M creates opportunities

As a global manufacturer, 3M sees it as its responsibility to promote the wealth of opportunities in the skilled trades, whilst building a robust talent pipeline to advance its business goals and those of its customers. The company is committed to supporting the growth of skilled talent and aims to create five million unique learning experiences in science, technology, and professional careers for underrepresented groups by the end of 2025. Part of this, for example, is “reverse mentoring”, in which Generation Z employees help to further train older employees in digital skills.

3M also offers platforms and programmes to encourage and build interest in skilled trades and to support employees on their journey. For example:

  • The 3M Manufacturing and Academic Partnerships (MAP) programme connects students to careers in manufacturing through scholarships that support a robust curriculum in mechanical engineering while providing hands-on training and access to 3M employees who are guest lecturers.
  • The documentary series "Skilled" celebrates craftsmanship and addresses prejudices that keep people from pursuing a career in the skilled trades. By depicting the lives of four workers, "Skilled" shows the diversity of skilled trades jobs and explains how employees can find personal fulfillment and professional success in this field.

The conditions in the skilled trades sector have changed

Advancements in connectivity and technology are changing working conditions in all industries, with the skilled trades being no exception. In an increasingly digitised world, the industry must keep pace with the technological wave of Industry 4.0. Skilled workers now need to employ digital solutions for monitoring, implementation, and remote maintenance on a daily basis."

“Digitally savvy workers have a particularly great chance of being successful in this changing world of work. Vocational schools, training programmes, and employers in the skilled trades must do more to ensure that career training meets the needs of the modern world. We must bring the worlds of STEM and skilled trades professionals together,” says Sarah Chapman, Application Engineering Manager, and North Europe Region STEM Champion, 3M.

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