As additive manufacturing continues to evolve, one question that is on many people’s minds is whether there is enough talent to sustain the industry’s growth. As a relatively new segment in the manufacturing world, AM has undeniably had challenges with skills gaps. Early on, the development of disruptive 3D printing processes outpaced AM training and education. Fortunately, AM processes and associated skills are now increasingly being integrated into many levels of education. To gain insights into the current state of the AM workforce and talent acquisition, we caught up with UK-based recruitment firm Kensington Additive.
Kensington Additive is a division of Kensington Consulting Ltd that was formed in 2014 to specifically address the additive manufacturing market. The company’s primary job is to work with additive businesses to find and recruit the best talent, but it also provides consulting services, including guidance on structuring a business and how to direct funding to build the optimal team.
“It is fair to say that we fell into 3D printing,” Philip Hodson, Co-Founder and CEO of Kensington Additive, tells us. “Back in 2014, we were working with one of our long-standing clients in the UK, a global minerals and mining company that was opening an additive manufacturing business unit. They were recruiting a Global Head of AM, so we needed to research the market and connect with key people across the industry.”
On this recruitment mission, Kensington’s team was struck by the collaborative nature of the AM industry and was impressed by the technologies they were seeing. From there, the company knew there was potential to offer recruitment services in the AM segment and became invested in learning more about the industry. That’s how Kensington Additive was born.
Recruitment AM trends in flux
“The AM market is niche and finding people with the relevant skills and experience is tough if you don’t know the industry,” Hodson says. “When we started, companies that were scaling up their teams were focusing a lot on advertising to attract people to their vacancies. However, this method has limitations given that only a small percentage of the AM market is ever actively looking for another job.”
This approach created barriers to hiring and recruitment and made it difficult for companies to find the best candidates for the jobs they were seeking to fill. “Furthermore, companies found it difficult to approach talent from their competitors, as it would often be frowned up by recipients. This approach hasn’t changed much and companies that don’t have internal recruiters or a talent acquisition team will often default to this strategy of hiring.”
According to Hodson, the most significant changes the company has noticed since it started in AM recruitment are related to job functions. “When we first started headhunting in the industry, there was a big focus on research and development. Companies needed prototyping technicians and engineers, and there was a need for people with hands-on technical skills who could develop product and process. Once companies launched their products to market, however, there was obviously a huge push for commercial professionals. We are still seeing this curve now, depending on where companies are in their 3D printing journey.”
Today, AM companies are increasingly looking to find people that can improve supply chains, operations and quality. “When searching for this type of talent, you not only need to know the nuances of AM, but you also need to understand how to find people who bring experience associated with more mature industries that can bring a competitive advantage to the AM business.”
How the pandemic influenced the skills gap
Hodson also points to COVID-19 as having an impact on recruitment trends in the industry. “The pandemic widened the skills gap, as some people decided their time in employment was over and opted for early retirement. And who can blame them? In most cases though, companies in AM did not suffer as severely as other companies, such as those heavily tied to the aerospace sector, for instance.” This resilience in part is due to the fact that the 3D printing industry was able to remain agile, transitioning to WFH and flexible working arrangements.
“Today, it is fair to say that demand for skills is significantly outstripping supply, even with several universities offering AM/3D printing degree courses. But more still needs to be done by offering practical apprenticeships, specifically covering DfAM, process and application engineering skills.” One of the most in-demand skills in the additive sector presently is software engineering, he tells us. “And AM is in significant competition for this talent with other emerging industries such as space, robotics, automation, EV and AV.”
Other in-demand skills include applications engineers, field service and sales positions. “Popular skills center around building the customer business case from a technical viewpoint and establishing the customer additive manufacturing journey. This is the role of an applications engineer, who combines liaison skills with technical adoption skills. Field service and sales positions often require a good depth of consultation to broaden the requirements in job descriptions to consider candidates with complementary sector experience.”
The talent pipelines leading to AM
As a recruiter in the AM space, Kensington Additive understands the importance of complementary experience and skills. Not all career paths will begin and end in AM. Many professionals from adjacent industries are finding their way into additive, and everyone benefits from these intersections.
“As additive manufacturing matures, more skills and experiences from established traditional engineering industries will become relevant, whether it’s machines, materials, software, service bureaus or OEMS,” Hodson explains. “AM is no doubt a market that captivates interest, which means attracting people from more mature sectors can often seem straightforward. But when you are looking to employ someone from other industries, the need to qualify this level of interest is key to securing the hire. In other words, attracting people with no 3D printing skills to the AM industry requires a different style of communication; approaching them must be treated subtly and in a personalized way.”
Part of Kensington Additive’s approach is to use different types of media, such as video, to reach out and connect with potential talent. “We often use video as a way to explain the opportunity but also provide a level of assurance about the process and the steps a candidate might take in the application process with us,” Hodson says. “This increases transparency and openness, which is particularly important when considering that we partner with a lot of AM startups. In these cases, candidates can have a level of anxiety about the company’s longevity and security.
“Taking time to explain the company’s value proposition in detail is key to our process. Working with the client to ensure the hiring literature is relevant and in support of non-AM candidates is also crucial.”
The keys to finding the best candidate
With a broad understanding of what it takes to recruit and onboard the top talent for AM positions, Kensington Additive has insights and tips that all AM companies with job vacancies can benefit from, from offering competitive salaries, to selling a company culture, to knowing where to look for talent.
It goes without saying that salary is a key question for most candidates, so it is paramount that AM companies seeking talent are aware of what the market for salaries looks like. To this end, Kensington Additive offers a free “salary survey” service to help its clients understand what a competitive salary for a particular position is. The AM recruiter also recommends taking a look at the competition. “Having a good understanding of their competitors and how they attract candidates can help companies understand how to implement similar or different tactics in their recruitment strategy.”
But salary isn’t always the only consideration. Many people also want to know if they fit into a company’s culture and what kinds of future opportunities they may have there. “It is not always money that’s the most attractive feature. In fact, a great company culture and an employer that invests in ongoing training opportunities, with a robust onboarding process, is likely to attract those who value personal growth,” Hodson states.
“We suggest conducting an employee survey for your current staff to understand why employees enjoy coming to work; use the findings as a marketing tactic to sell your company culture to prospective employees. On the other side, it is also important to take on board any negative feedback from your employees and address it to encourage and increase retention rate.”
How companies attract prospective employees is also a huge factor in how successful a talent search will be. “Attracting people simply through a job advertisement does not often cut it,” Hodson explains. “Writing a job description and posting this on LinkedIn, or relying solely on candidates stumbling across this on your website, is unlikely to result in hiring the best person for the job. There must be a level of proactivity from companies looking to recruit the right staff.”
How AM recruitment services can help
Recruitment in a segment as passionate and driven as AM is not simply a matter of listing job vacancies. Active head hunting and talent acquisition are needed to ensure that the best candidates end up in the right roles. But many AM companies don’t have the resources or time to consistently scout for talent. That’s where AM recruiters like Kensington Additive come in to the picture.
“We take full responsibility for the critical and most time-consuming parts of the hiring process, allowing our clients to hire the right person with confidence” Hodson says. “Given that the active pool of candidates (candidates that apply to adverts) represents only 10% of the marketplace, getting it wrong is plausible. Using us to qualify your requirements, consult with you on the talent pool landscape, devise a hiring plan and engage the whole marketplace using headhunting techniques leads to a more robust approach focused on the best quality candidates rather than the most available candidate shortlist.”
In its recruitment processes, Kensington Additive combines more conventional approaches, like CV/Resume review, with more dynamic techniques like video outreach. “We use video to assess our candidate’s skills and experiences, spending time to record a two-way video that includes a series of complex competency questions and answers for our clients to review.” This combined approach means that AM businesses can focus on skills and personality in their talent search.
“The obvious benefit to using a recruiter is to save time and money,” he adds. “Though people often think recruitment is expensive, there are many hidden costs associated with lengthy recruitment processes or—even worse—hiring the wrong person. Focusing on a robust, streamlined recruitment project will result in finding the best person for the role quickly, efficiently and without a company really having to lift a finger.”
Kensington Additive also understands that each AM company has different needs, as well as a unique work culture and operating style. This means that it adapts its recruitment strategy based on the client. “Our service is tailored to every company we work with, and each situation requires a different service or method.” The company also offers consulting services, including guidance on organizational structures, salary surveys, and interview coaching.
The goal? Hiring the world’s best talent
Ultimately, Kensington Additive’s aim is to help its clients in the AM industry find the best talent out there. “We already have an extensive list of testimonials and we are really trying to achieve our mission of hiring the world’s best talent for our clients. By focusing on our key values of quality, commitment, communication and knowledge, we will continue to provide a reputable service and demonstrate the value of working with us.”
Going forward, the AM recruitment firm has big ambitions. On the one hand, it is continuing to make new connections across the industry as well as develop new relationships to both expand the pool of candidates and integrate itself with new verticals AM is entering. On a business level, Kensington Additive itself is planning to expand further in the U.S. and European market. “Expanding our footprint and growing our brand is key for us. We also have a strategy to expand our brand into advanced manufacturing markets that complement AM.”
When it comes down to it, Kensington Additive fills an important role in the AM market, creating a strong bridge between AM businesses and a talented workforce. Hodson sums it up best by saying: “You can have the best technology, the best strategy and the best market, but without the best people, it will all be in vain.”