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Globalisation and IT among key trends to impact on manufacturing industry, says Redline Group

Redline Group has commented on the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the UK economy over the last 50 years:


The contribution of the manufacturing industry to the UK economy has changed markedly over the last 50 years. On average, output in the manufacturing industry has grown by 1.4% a year since 1948, although it has contracted around the economic downturns in the 1970s, early 1990s and early 2000s and most recently and notably during the 2008-9 economic downturn.


During this period, output growth has been at a slower rate than that for the whole economy, and as a consequence the proportion of whole economy Gross Value Added (GVA) accounted for by manufacturing has fallen since the early 1950s. This is mainly due to the manufacturing industry becoming more efficient and increasing productivity via modernisation and R&D investment into new manufacturing processes and Lean methodologies such as Six Sigma and Kaizen.


Over the last decade, the recruitment landscape in UK manufacturing industry has seen many significant changes, primarily due to globalisation. According to the House of Commons (2015), the manufacturing industry employed around 2.6m people in the UK and, in 2013, accounted for 10% or £151B of national economic output.


Manufacturing & operations recruitment manager, Janet Marsh, recently celebrated 15 years at Redline Group and has witnessed the industry fluctuations first hand in her 30-year career as a recruiter, manager and industry professional, having started in production planning and supply chain jobs with the likes of Beckham Coulter a manufacturer of biomedical laboratory instrumentation.


Marsh, Redline Group’s manufacturing and operations manager, commented, “UK manufacturing has seen significant changes especially with the electronics, automotive and aerospace sectors. Jobs have reduced significantly across all manufacturing sub-industries since 1978. The falls in jobs within the computer, electronics, optical and electrical industries have been particularly strong – with a reduction of over 70% in jobs between 1979 and 2013.


“The UK previously undertook a considerable amount of high volume manufacturing in both the mobile phone and computer sectors. With the growth in both Asia and China in particular, we saw first-hand the closure of many companies in Silicon Glen and other regional manufacturing centres across the UK such as the shutting of Ericsson mobile telephone facilities in Scunthorpe and Nottingham with the loss of 1,200 jobs in 2001.


“Silicon Glen between Dundee, Inverclyde and Edinburgh had a mix of semiconductor, computer and mobile phone manufacturers. This heavy dependency on electronics manufacturing hit Silicon Glen hard after the collapse of the hi-tech economy in 2000, when stocks reacted to the Dotcom crash. Viasystems, National Semiconductor (now Texas Instruments) and Motorola Mobile all laid off substantial numbers of employees or closed factories completely. The effects of the Viasystems closure are still felt in the Scottish Borders today. Digital sold their Alpha facility to Motorola who eventually closed it down. In 2009, Sun ceased manufacturing at its Linlithgow plant and, after successive years of downsizing, NCR ended all manufacturing in Dundee.


“The UK had to respond to the rise in globalisation and saw increased international competition created by outsourcing and offshoring to emerging countries. Companies had to enhance their productivity and reduce costs which saw a change in the way people worked with computers and how robots began to replace manual labour.”


The proportion of hours worked in the manufacturing industry accounted for by workers with no qualifications has fallen significantly from just over 26% to 8% since 1993, offset to an extent by a noticeable increase in graduates. The same trend is visible across the wider economy, but to a smaller degree.


There has also been an increase in experience within manufacturing that the proportion of people aged 50+ working in the industry has risen from 20% to 30%, offset by a fall in the proportion of workers aged 16-29. This may partly be driven by changing demographics in the UK, nevertheless it has resulted in a more experienced workforce. More experience is generally associated with higher productivity, as workers have a greater wealth of knowledge to draw from and are therefore more familiar with the manufacturing production process and the associated challenges.


In line with other major economies, UK manufacturing has undergone a period of decline, yet continues to make a significant contribution to GDP. It remains vital for long term economic growth and sustainability. According to a 2012 study by McKinsey called ‘Manufacturing the future, the next era of global growth and innovation’, manufacturing generates up to 70% of exports in major manufacturing economies, and up to 90% of business R&D spending.


Adam Walker, director of Redline Group, said, “UK manufacturing remains an important sector of the modern British economy and the UK remains as one of the most attractive countries for high tech manufacturing jobs. It has been great to work with a recruitment manager and manufacturing industry professional like Janet. Her 15 years of experience within Redline focussed on manufacturing and operations jobs across the electronic engineering, automotive and aerospace sectors has enabled her to gain a wealth of experience, an unparalleled network of contacts combined with a knowledge-led approach required by Redline customers in this niche and scarce-skills employment sector.  


“The need for more manufacturing professionals has often meant that the manufacturing recruitment team at Redline have ventured out of the UK to source experienced highly qualified production, process engineering and supply chain professionals from the likes of former Eastern European countries following the relocation of some high volume manufacturing facilities from the UK to Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary.


“The future of UK manufacturing sector will look very different over the next 20 years, and will likely be virtually unrecognisable from when Redline Group started operating over 30 years ago. Successful companies will need to be capable of rapidly adapting their physical and intellectual infrastructures to exploit changes in technology as manufacturing becomes faster and more responsive to changing global markets and closer to customers.”


The key trends that are likely to impact the industry over the coming years will include:


  1. Globalisation will adopt a new approach - Widespread globalisation is being gradually replaced with targeted international production and distribution. Companies are moving closer to their customers and establishing a presence.
  2. Production operations will focus on more profitable products - Increased production costs, changing customer needs and a stricter regulatory environment influencing manufacturers to look at reducing product portfolios and producing smaller batch quantities whilst shifting focus to a high-value, increase functionality mix of products.
  3. Innovation and speed - According to PwC’s 2013 report ‘Preparing for Growth -manufacturers adopt new strategies for growth and competitive edge’, survival in today’s global market and investing in the future requires organisations to innovate and be able to commercialise successful innovations quickly.
  4. Improved IT - Improved enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and enhanced production line automation and monitoring already boost efficiency and will continue to have a significant impact on the manufacturing industry. In addition, cloud-based environments and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications will assist more collaborative and working practices.
  5. Sustainability - Energy costs will continue to rise and there are increasing pressures to reduce environmental impact and waste. Energy management will become a key part of every manufacturer’s responsibilities.
  6. Demographics - With an ageing manufacturing population, there will be a rise in executive, managerial, and associate technical positions for well qualified professionals within the manufacturing arena. The precise mix of skills in demand for UK factories of the future will vary by sub-sector, such as electronics, aerospace and automotive. However, new blends of skills will increase manufacturers’ ability to exploit new market opportunities. These blends of high quality skills will allow developed economies such as the UK to increasingly compete in terms of the quality of their workforce.


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