Project skills gap is biggest risk for manufacturing projects intended to deliver social benefit, says new APM survey

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The skills gap in project management is the biggest risk to projects intended to benefit society, a new survey of manufacturing and utilities project professionals carried out by the Association for Project Management (APM) has found.

APM has launched its ‘Future Lives and Landscapes’ campaign to help identify and overcome challenges facing projects intended to deliver societal benefits across the UK, now and in the future.

Working with the research company Censuswide, APM surveyed 1,000 project professionals currently working on projects with the primary aim of delivering a social benefit – such as improving living standards, enhancing wellbeing, increasing social equality, or reducing geographic inequality.

The research found 43% of manufacturing and utilities respondents identified project skills gaps as the biggest risk to delivering social benefit projects currently – the second highest figure among all sectors surveyed, behind arts and culture (48%). The second-biggest risk was a lack of project professionals (29%), followed by insufficient funding (24%). Another 4% said there is no single biggest risk.

When asked what they felt the biggest risk to these projects would be in five years’ time, 39% said insufficient funding, almost a third (32%) answered project skills gaps, followed by a lack of project professionals (23%), and 6% said there is no single biggest risk. In addition, when asked specifically about skills, 62% of manufacturing project professionals said there are skills gaps in the sector that will affect the delivery of other similar projects at present. Of these, 57% said there are ‘some’ gaps and 5% answered ‘significant’ gaps. Another 38% reported no skills gaps.

A previous survey of project professionals by APM found communication, organisation and leadership were the three most-needed skills in the profession. Calls for urgent action to address skills and labour shortages in the sector have long been made. For instance, Make UK’s 2030 Skills: Closing The Gap report found 36% of vacancies across the sector are difficult to fill because applicants lack the appropriate skills, qualifications or experience, compared to an average rate of 24% across all industries. It estimated the cost of lost productivity due to unfulfilled roles in 2022 amounted to £7.7-£8.3 billion, or approximately £21 million a day in lost output for UK GDP.

Meanwhile, APM’s Future Lives and Landscape 2023 survey also revealed that, when asked if there is sufficient funding to deliver their current social value project both on time and to specified quality, less than a third (30%) answered yes to both. Some 52% said yes to meeting only the deadline and 18% said yes to meeting only the quality criteria. Workforce concerns were also identified among 63% of respondents. A total of 57% said they would benefit from additional project professionals to deliver other similar social benefit projects currently, while 7% said there weren’t enough and many more are needed. Another 37% said an increase was not needed.

Professor Adam Boddison OBE, Chief Executive of APM, said: “It is clear from our study that there are concerns around skills, the numbers of project professionals and funding for projects across the manufacturing and utilities sector that are delivering social benefits. It is vital that individuals and those responsible for recruiting for project teams understand the importance of having not only sufficient numbers of project professionals, but also the right skills in place.

“We champion greater professionalism in projects and driving a better understanding of the importance of the use of expert professionals in project delivery. This includes ensuring organisations and teams having access to the right level of training, qualifications and having more Chartered Project Professionals to raise standards and the outcomes of projects for public benefit. “It’s important that, as the chartered membership organisation for the project profession, we recognise and highlight the issues impacting project success, and in particular those projects with a benefit to society. Our latest campaign sets out to do this."

APM is the only chartered organisation representing the project profession in the world with over 40,000 individual members and more than 400 corporate partners based across 140 countries.

Professor Adam Boddison OBE, Chief Executive of the Association for Project Management (APM), the chartered membership organisation for the project profession.

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