What do the British public think about manufacturing?

British publicA new survey on public attitudes to manufacturing reveals support and ignorance in almost equal measure writes Stephen Phipson, CEO of EEF

As our politicians enjoy their conference season and consider the potential implications of a ‘no deal’ Brexit on the future of our economy they might do well to take notice of a survey that we’ve carried out with our partner law firm Womble Bond Dickinson.

British public

We work with great businesses every day and see first-hand their inventiveness, their resilience and adaptability. We know that manufacturers are crucial to generating wealth, to the UK’s research and development efforts and we know that the UK would be exporting a lot less around the world without them. And we’ve got the statistics that show how important the sector has been in improving productivity. But we would say that, wouldn’t we?

So we’ve asked the great British public what they think about manufacturing.

The good news is that the public does understand the importance of manufacturing. They see that it matters to their local area, with that view being especially dominant in communities that rely more heavily on manufacturing for jobs. Looking forward, almost three quarters of people agree that the UK cannot tackle future problems without a strong manufacturing sector. The sector also comes first when asked which sector is likely to provide a solution to the challenges facing the UK, in particular the grand challenges identified in the Government’s Industrial Strategy which will impact on economies and societies all over the world.

In particular, these include the way that we travel and transport goods, as well as rapidly developing artificial intelligence. Manufacturing was also ranked second when it comes to reducing the impact of climate change and scores highly with the public for trust and ‘doing the right thing’.

Added to this the public also believes that when the UK leaves the EU manufacturing is vitally important to securing our place in the global economy, while they also felt that a strong manufacturing sector was important to secure employment for future generations.

The British public believes that the UK is ranked at fifty six in the world, which is actually the position of Kazakhstan

This strong public backing for the importance of manufacturing has significant implications for the direction of policy as we look to build on industrial strategy and decide what type of economy we are going to need to secure growth in a post-Brexit world.

That was where the good news stopped, however, as the survey also contained some alarming findings that confirm the poor and outdated image of manufacturing still persists among parents.

When asked only a fifth of parents want their children to work in manufacturing believing the sector to be poorly paid, whilst just over a quarter said they do not want their offspring working on a production line. In addition, almost one fifth said they did not want their child doing manual labour, a factor which has huge implications at a time when Apprenticeships and Technical Skills are so critical.

The extent of misperception about pay is that average earnings in manufacturing significantly exceed  average earnings in the whole of the UK economy and services, but just 16 per cent of the public are aware of this and the financial opportunities opting for a career in manufacturing could bring.

Furthermore, while the public understands the value of manufacturing the view of Britain’s international standing was extremely underrated. The British public believes that the UK is ranked at 56 in the world, which is actually the position of Kazakhstan.

The reality is that the UK has not been out of the top ten performing manufacturing countries around the globe for the last decade, and is currently sitting at ninth place in the world.

The findings make it clear that manufacturing still has a core role in the hearts and minds of the British public, that it is important for the country’s economy and government should invest more in its future. But the findings show an alarming misperception still exists about the opportunities and rewards available in manufacturing among those who are crucial to its future, namely the parents of the next generation. We must be ceaseless therefore in talking up our sector, its significance and the fact it is a sector the public and those working in it can be proud of.

As such there can be no easing in pushing government to work with industry to invest more in creating the next generation of manufacturers. This will ensure we are able to maintain Britain’s impressive place in global manufacturing and secure its future growth potential.

Key findings

The survey, which attracted 2052 responses from across the UK  was carried our for EEF by YouGov.

  • 79% of people believe Govt should place greater value on manufacturing
  • 70% of people agree a strong manufacturing base essential to tackle future challenges
  • 69% of people think manufacturing essential to post Brexit place in world
  • Yet only one fifth of parents would want their child to work in the sector
  • Misperception about pay and working on production line key reasons
  • Public believes Britain to be 56th biggest manufacturing nation, in reality is it’s 9th