Last week we released our short report ‘Why does manufacturing matter to the British public?’ and revealed some of the public’s perceptions of the manufacturing sector. Today we’re going to take a closer look at some of the responses and compare them to the official statistics that we put in our UK Manufacturing fact card, and see if the thoughts diverge from the facts.
When compared to other sectors of the economy the majority of the public believes manufacturing is average or above when it comes to developing new products (72%) and using new technology (75%). They also think the manufacturing sector is best placed to tackle challenges related to changes in the transport we use, and AI adoption and development.
The hard data back up the public’s viewpoint. The manufacturing sector is punching above its weight in terms of research and development, accounting for a whopping 69% of business R&D.
People from across the UK are fully cognisant of the importance of jobs, with the majority agreeing that their local area would be worse off without manufacturing jobs. Despite this, almost three quarters (72%) think that when it comes to paying a good wage, the sector is average or below average compared to other areas of the economy.
There are 2.7 million employees in the sector and they are spread across the full length and breadth of the UK, so it’s another win for the public. However, on salary they’re quite a way off. The average earnings for manufacturing employees is £32,467. This puts manufacturing above the services sector (£28.3k) and the whole economy average (£29k). With only 17% thinking we pay above average, there’s definitely some work to do here.
The UK versus the world
When we asked where UK manufacturing ranks by the value of its outputs compared to the rest of the world, on average, the general public say 56th. Over a third (37%) don’t think we make it into the top fifty, and just 13% ranking us in the top ten.
The latest data puts the UK 9th in the world by value of its output, meaning the public put us forty seven places lower than reality. By most measures the UK is sitting pretty high, being 10th for goods exports, and 9th for GDP.
Overall it may look like a bit of a mixed bag.
We can see that the image of what a modern factory looks like seems to have made its way into the public consciousness. They know that the sector is where new ideas and products are created and utilised, and that it is our best hope for rising up to many of the challenges future technology will bring upon us.
However, some large misconceptions persist. The impression that manufacturing is poorly paid is undoubtedly a big issue, and may go some way to explaining why there is a shortage of skills coming into the sector.
The other obvious issue is the ranking, with the public, on average, placing us in a position that in reality is held by Kazakhstan. How this misperception has come about is up for debate. It could be the representation in media, the imported goods and products people see every day, or the shift in the focus of the UK economy over the past fifty years. What is interesting is that, in spite of this, two thirds of people think the UK should aim to be in the top five.
What is clear is that there is work to be done on improving this perception and busting some of these myths. The evidence is there, and business, trade bodies and government need to work hard to raise the public’s awareness.
We all care about British manufacturing, but how do we break into the top five?
We’d like you to tell us. Go on - and be as bold and visionary as you like.