By Claire West
The demand is there and the cost of engineering in other territories is rising, but the lack of backing for manufacturing apprenticeships and cash flow problems are causing significant roadblocks to recovery, according to Beatrice Bartlay, Managing Director of staffing agency 2B Interface.
In a survey of senior manufacturing executives in May, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the UK above the likes of Germany and Japan, which have historically been seen as manufacturing centres. The CBI employers’ group also found that SME manufacturers in the UK suffered from a shortfall in output, but this is expected to grow with a demand for quality exports.
Bartlay said: “Manufacturing in this country will unquestionably play a significant role in improving the economic conditions. The continuously weak pound, the rising cost of international logistics and transport, and the growing demand for quality products — particularly in the high-tech sector — are all coming together to ensure that the industry will be the key factor in getting the shaky British economy back on form.
“There are two key challenges. Firstly, the worrying trend for late payments to suppliers and OEMs that fall outside of agreed terms and conditions is killing smaller and niche players. It is very sad that a lot of manufacturers with growing demand for products and fantastic trading potential are going bust due to the cash flow problem they create,” she said.
“But also, the industry has been struggling for ages with a skills shortage. British manufacturers looking for new employees are worryingly coming up short. Even when there are jobs available, there are no skilled people able to take these positions, because there is a systematic problem with a scarcity of apprenticeship schemes supported by the government. We need to start training young people to do these jobs now,” Bartlay added.
She concluded: “We transformed British industry from manufacturing to services some decades ago, but I think it needs to be adjusted and it is time to redress the balance. We educate too few engineers, fabricators and other highly skilled workers. With the demand for them growing, it is soon going to be too late and we will either have to rely on imports or bring more people trained in other countries.”