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The importance of the manufacturing sector to the UK's economy

01 November 2018

The importance of the manufacturing sector to the UK's economy
We explore the key role that manufacturing has in the UK’s wider economy and its place on the global stage, particularly with Brexit drawing ever closer

There’s no denying that manufacturing plays an important role in the UK, particularly when it comes to the country’s economy. It’s a huge, high-value area of employment – according to a report released in April 2018, The True Impact of UK Manufacturing, it directly accounts for 9% of the UK’s GDP and provides 2.6 million jobs, which is bigger than the financial services industry for context. The report also reflects on the indirect impact of the manufacturing industry – which includes those businesses that are within the supply chain – and the statistics rise to 15% of the UK economy and over five million jobs.

The numbers are clear – manufacturing is incredibly vital to the country’s economic health. And the general public are starting to realise this too. In the not-so-recent past, there was an overriding opinion of decline in the manufacturing industry. With stores awash with foreign imports and factories closing in towns, impacting hugely on local jobs, it’s no wonder that it seemed like British manufacturing was on a slippery slope.

Improved public awareness

However, a recent poll, carried out by YouGov for EEF and law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, found that the public do recognise the importance of manufacturing: 70% of respondents agree that the UK can’t tackle future economic problems without a strong manufacturing sector.

In an editorial piece for North East Times, Peter Snaith, partner and head of manufacturing at Womble Bond Dickinson, says: “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.”

The poll also showed that 69% believed that manufacturing is important to help the UK secure its place in the global economy post-Brexit; and 61% said a strong manufacturing sector will help to secure jobs for future generations. This public confidence is certainly a morale boost for the manufacturing industry.

Misconceptions and future growth

However, there is still a lot of work to be done. The poll revealed long-standing misconceptions about the industry as well. The manufacturing industry desperately needs new talent moving up through the ranks from younger generations to help keep the industry buoyant in the future. And yet, the poll shows that only a fifth of those who are parents of under 18s would encourage their children to work in manufacturing. This is attributed to beliefs regarding low pay and limited career prospects working on a production line and manual labour.

It’s imperative, then, that the manufacturing industry does more to attract the next generation of workers and to highlight the huge career opportunities now available. With the growth of Industry 4.0 technologies, including automation, 3D printing and robotics, the range of high-level technical skills required to maintain the industry’s innovation is wide.

Stephen Phipson, CEO of EEF, says: “It is clear that there are massive misconceptions about manufacturing although it is pleasing that the UK public feels the sector is important for the country’s economy and that Government should invest more in its future. Clearly, we need to continue to push Government to work with industry to invest more in creating the next generation of manufacturers to ensure we are able to maintain Britain’s impressive place in global manufacturing, and go on to improve further and grow.”

Published in Corrotherm News