The manufacturing sector is a major contributor to most economies around the world. In fact, according to a recent report, the sector accounts for nearly 16% of the global GDP in 2018. This is part of the reason why, when COVID-19 struck countries around the world in early 2020, governments spared no efforts in supporting and encouraging the manufacturing sector. Unlike the retail, hospitality and entertainment industries, many countries marked the manufacturing sector as being essential. 

With that said, the sector was still impacted in some shape or form. According to estimations by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the COVID-19 outbreak could cause the global foreign direct investments to shrink by 5–15%. So, for manufacturing’s engines to come back online in the post-COVID world, here are the most essential skills you need to hire for in the sector. 

1. Supplier development

Collaboration is crucial in business and working together with suppliers 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 create 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 in 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 both them and 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 adaptable to 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 increased speed of change and adaptation. 

6. Speed of change skills

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 life cycles 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 Electrical 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 is one of the bedrocks 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. 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 a knowledge and understanding of the impact of COVID19 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.