The latest statistics show that the employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were in work) for the first quarter of 2017 was 74.8%, the highest since comparable records began back in 1971.
The manufacturing sector played a good part in this, pushing up its total number of employees this year from 2.6 to 2.7 million.
So without further ado, let’s take a quick look at the five manufacturing sectors that have the most employees and see what makes the top five tick.
5 - Rubber & Plastics: 170,000
The vast majority of these employees (almost 150’000) work in the production of plastics.
Plastic products have moulded themselves to fit in to many intermediate consumption sectors so it’s not surprising that we have a healthy employee base here. For instance, the recent strength in the UK automotive sector is a good sign for plastic manufacturers, as is any commitment from the future government to build more housing.
Bottling it up
Plastic is also favoured as packaging for food and drinks, rapidly replacing glass and metal as packaging for carbonated drinks (good news for children still obsessed with bottle flipping…).
Concerns around health issues caused by certain chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics have been raised in recent years (the chemical BPA is banned from plastic packaging in France) and there’s still an environmental push to reduce the use of plastic entirely (some supermarkets refuse to sell cotton buds with plastic sticks).
Manufacturers in this sector are already looking at ways to make materials that are easier to recycle, or that rapidly biodegrade, to counter any environmental squeeze on their order books.
4 & 3 - Electrical Equipment and Mechanical equipment – 193,000
These two sectors are neck and neck when it comes to numbers employed, so they get a joint third/fourth place on our list. First up let’s look at electrical equipment.
Don’t get the wires crossed
Interestingly both electricity generation and domestic appliances fall into this sector, making it a difficult one to read.
Electric motors and generators make up a good portion of this sector (employing 34,000), which helps us make some observations. Big offshore windfarm projects, such as Beatrice near Scotland and Hornsea Project One just off the Yorkshire coast, should give the sector a positive charge, as will the power station at Hinckley Point. However, this import intensive sector hasn’t been buzzing over the current drop in the value of the pound post referendum.
A well-equipped sector
Mechanical Equipment involves production of various machines, many used elsewhere in the wider manufacturing sector.
Being the chief investment good in manufacturing, it will grind their gears if domestic companies pull back on their investments. That being said, the sector exports a substantial amount of output and the pick-up in manufacturing globally, as well as the drop in the value of the pound, should keep the cogs turning.
2 - Metal Products – 334,000
The UK has a robust metal products sector, expert at adding value with precision engineering, so it’s no surprise that it takes silver in our list.
To be precise…
With 131,000 employed in treatment, coating and machining of metal, it’s clear that products made in the UK are high quality and utilise strong technical knowledge. Intermediate consumption is a strong player in this sector too, with smaller parts produced and then assembled or integrated into larger products elsewhere.
Specifically, this sector is welded to the supply chains for motor vehicles and other transport sectors as well as aerospace and structural products feed in to the construction sector. Exposure to these domestic and international markets makes this sector less likely to be affected by a downturn in a single area.
Exports make up a small part of the picture for this sector, with domestic demand from those intermediary companies the main source of their orders.
1 - Food & drink – 418,000
And final we must drink to the success of our food and drinks manufacturers, who take pole position in our list.
With so many employees across this varied sector let’s dive a little deeper into where exactly these employees are working.
There are 27,000 employed in brewing and distilling. The trend for craft beer and the rapid increase in the number of gin distilleries may have provided an extra boost in recent years, and of course the Scotch whisky industry is incredibly well established. It is happy hour for our brewers and distillers as beer, gin and whisky are some of the few products in this sector that have a trade surplus (we’re exporting more than we import).
Meat your maker
With disease scandals a plenty, the British meat industry has certainly been tenderised over the past twenty years, but it has weathered the storms. If you’re gobbling turkey drummers or biting into a British burger, you’re helping to support over 80,000 jobs in meat manufacturing.
Rising to the top is baking. Whether it be pie, pasty, sliced bread, or a Victoria sponge. The icing on the cake is that this translates to 171,000 people working in bakeries and other farinaceous (starch products) production.
Export intensity for the sector sits at about 9%, with most of the demand going to final consumption. As with other sectors input prices have risen with the fall in sterling meaning that prices will also rise for consumers. The increase in inflation is hitting profits too, and we may see some job losses as companies consolidate their workforce and production in the UK.