UK Manufacturing would appear to be experiencing both an exciting and a disconcerting time, according to the findings of the Annual Manufacturing Report 2018.
This year's report set out not just to provide a statistical snapshot of the industry, but to test the mood of manufacturers across a range of issues from technology to training.
The issue of support for Skills and Training was the one that generated the most enthusiastic feedback from respondents.
In particular, there was an acknowledgement of the need for those within the manufacturing industry to grow, and nurture, the flow of skilled young people coming out of the UK’s colleges and schools.
The urgent need for investment in Smart Technologies and Industrial Digitisation was another hot topic for discussion, with resounding agreement on the importance of investing in new technologies.
At the same though feedback suggests that, for many in the industry, there are obstacles getting in the way of making that investment a reality.
Skills and Training
The increasing digitisation, industrial automation and interconnection of products (including the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and robotics) is bringing with it some significant implications in terms of the specialist technical skills that companies require.
In tandem, there’s recognition among manufacturers of the need to nurture innovation, empathy, creativity and leadership potential within their workforce.
A vast majority of respondents (86%) agree that manufacturers have a responsibility to get more involved with schools and training.
There wis also resounding support for the benefits of apprenticeship schemes as a means to educate and empower employees and address the manufacturing skills gap.
Seventy-two per cent of manufacturers see the development of apprenticeships as a positive thing for manufacturing, with 71% believing that apprenticeship schemes offer a viable alternative to other forms of higher education for school leavers.
Tempering this feedback though, is the view of 55% of respondents who think the UK government is sending mixed messages about what it is doing to address the skills gap. And 59% of those surveyed say they perceive the Apprenticeship Levy as a 'tax on employment.'
Of those surveyed, 92% think Smart Factory technologies will help them increase their productivity levels per headcount.
Eighty-nine per cent of respondents agree that these technologies will help their staff to work smarter.
And 80% of manufacturers believe Smart Factory technologies will have a positive impact on their supply chain relationships.
The Rise of Digital Technology
The report demonstrates a resounding acknowledgement of the relevance of advanced digital technologies and Industry 4.0 for the future of successful manufacturing.
Among the key findings: 87% of manufacturers indicated they are looking to invest in new digital technologies to boost productivity; 85% of respondents said they are using digital technologies to transform their business - from design to customer retention; 81% agree that data from connected machines will reduce their costs and help inform their decision-making; and 83% see digital as the key to accelerating innovation in design development and processes.
- 42% of respondents find government support services for industry confusing
- 66% think digital technologies will be a massive growth driver in manufacturing
- 67% of manufacturers said Brexit is damaging their business prospects and making planning difficult
- 69% believe there should be a national campaign of education to promote the importance of manufacturing to the UK economy
- 72% of respondents have confidence in overseas trade and believe the conditions are prime for growth
- 75% of manufacturers say they have an export-based growth strategy
- 84% believe the UK has the drive to succeed as an industrial nation
Despite the challenges of a slower-than-expected growth in economy and the uncertainty of the outcomes of Brexit, the findings of the 2018 Annual Manufacturing Report demonstrate a commitment among the industry to innovate and succeed.
What's clear is that there is going to be increasing emphasis on balancing the need for business understanding with technological innovation and human insight.
As The Manufacturer’s editorial director Nick Peters sums up in the foreword to the report:
“UK manufacturers are riding high on a global economy that is beginning to shrug off a decade’s worth of post-recession blues (and) people in the UK are waking up to the fact that we do have a vibrant manufacturing sector.”