By Peter Snaith, Partner and Head of Manufacturing at Womble Bond Dickinson
At Womble Bond Dickinson we know that manufacturing businesses are incredibly important to the UK economy and society as a whole, acting as large employers and accounting for 45% of all UK exports. We are delighted to have collaborated with EEF on this compelling study, which confirms that the UK public backs manufacturing too.
As a firm, we are truly embedded in the manufacturing sector and we wanted to understand the perceptions around UK manufacturing. We therefore decided to work with EEF to ask the general public about their views on the sector. This is particularly important for an industry that has been the victim of misconceptions and clichés.
The findings are very encouraging, if not slightly surprising. Despite the UK's economy being largely dependent on the service sector, the results show that the public understands and appreciates how important manufacturing is. The public also recognises manufacturing as an innovative sector that is pivotal to helping tackle some of our greatest challenges that lie ahead, through an investment in research and development and the introduction of new technologies.
Back in November 2017, the Government revealed the UK's Industrial Strategy with the aim to boost productivity, create jobs and embrace new technology to allow the UK to meet four 'Grand Challenges':
putting the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolution;
harnessing the power of innovation to meet the needs of an ageing society;
maximising the advantages for UK industry from the global shift to clean growth; and
becoming a world leader in shaping the future of mobility.
The survey results reflect a high level of confidence in the sector. Manufacturing has an important role to play when it comes to these 'Grand Challenges', with 70% of respondents agreeing that the UK can't tackle these future challenges without a strong manufacturing sector.
The report also shows that the myth of manufacturing being old-fashioned, grimy and unsafe has fortunately been dispelled. Instead, survey respondents believe that manufacturing is performing positively in comparison to other sectors when it comes to providing a clean and safe working environment, developing new products and using new technology. Manufacturing is also working hard to attract more women to the profession, with a range of initiatives being put in place to encourage the recruitment and retention of women into manufacturing jobs.
However, the report confirms some of the common misconceptions that the industry still faces. Many people believe those working in manufacturing suffer from low pay, with only 17% actually realising that the average earnings in manufacturing exceed average earnings in services and the wider economy.
Most surprisingly of all, the survey respondents massively underestimated the UK manufacturing sector's output, estimating that the UK ranks 56th in the world when it comes to value of output. In actual fact, the most recent data puts the UK in 9th place globally for output.
There are more challenges on the horizon for manufacturers to overcome. Brexit continues to edge closer with questions around trade and the movement of goods outstanding. There is also the ongoing skills shortage that remains to be addressed. Manufacturing however, has the public backing and 78% of respondents feel the government should place more value on the sector.
Manufacturing provides enormous value to the UK economy. It is encouraging that the public’s perception acknowledges this, with widespread confidence in the manufacturing industry’s ability to solve many of the UK’s challenges. Our clients are proof of this – embracing technologies to enhance their productivity and compete on a global scale.
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