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With the government referencing manufacturing and engineering firms in its new strategy to encourage people to go back to work, it’s time to reopen the doors.

But, it’s not quite as simple as everyone going back to ‘normal’. With social distancing rules still in place and trying to avoid public transport on the cards, managing to get into work may be tricky for some.

Those engineering and manufacturing businesses who have continued to operate during the lockdown will have already implemented policies to follow social distancing measures. While this is simple enough for those engineers who are using computer software in their roles (and can therefore work remotely), those working on sites or production lines will have seen big changes in their way of working.

Firms are already implementing measures to help keep engineers as safe as they can. Measures include staggering shift patterns, marking two metre distances on the floors, acquiring and distributing PPE for those who cannot social distance, and even ensuring availability of hand sanitiser and facilities where employees can wash their hands regularly.

Upskilling staff

There is, however, another way in which engineering firms can implement social distancing which will benefit both the business and its employees, and that’s by upskilling staff.

With an upskilled workforce, jobs that need more than one engineer - where it is impossible to maintain social distancing - could now be done by one, multi-skilled engineer. For example, a job might previously have required an electrical and mechanical engineer working in close proximity. By teaching the electrical engineer elements of mechanical engineering, the job would only require one person.

Of course, this tactic should not be used when work requires more than one engineer for safety reasons. Firms must be sensible enough to deploy multi-skilled engineers on their own, only on jobs where more than one engineer is needed, for skill and knowledge, rather than jobs where it would be unsafe to have fewer workers.

This strategy would mean that engineering firms can continue to carry out jobs which would previously have been unsafe due to a lack of social distancing.

Short- and long-term benefits of upskilling

Ensuring your engineers are multi-faceted provides a range of immediate and long-lasting gains.

As well as ensuring you can continue with some projects where social distancing is impossible, the reality is that the virus will be a threat to the workforce until a vaccine is found - if Covid-19 can even be vaccinated against. It’s inevitable that some of your engineers will either catch the virus, or be forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with some who has it.

By upskilling, you have added flexibility to your workforce, allowing you to deploy staff as emergency cover for those who may be forced to go into isolation. Having a cadre of engineers with a variety of skills means you can access a pool of talent when looking for cover.

Additionally, having a cohort of highly skilled engineers will set up your business in the long run. You’ll have the workforce to cope with demand when the economy approaches something like a return to normality, with a number of high-performing employees who are able to carry out a wide range of roles. Your dedication to upskilling and training your team members will also be attractive to engineers in other firms, therefore increasing your access to the most talented potential employees.

While upskilling employees is something all businesses should always look to do, it’s inevitable that this may be an ‘added extra’ for some during this pandemic. However, if forward-thinking engineering companies make this a focus during the current situation, as it helps to make a business more secure in the short term, yet help it to grow in the long term.

If you are a business looking for engineers and manufacturers, or are an engineering and manufacturing professional seeking a new role, contact your local Reed office.