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Will we witness the resurgence of manufacturing post-pandemic?

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The UK manufacturing sector was hit profoundly by the pandemic, with PMI dipping to the lowest value since records began. However, after a year of uncertainty, manufacturing growth hit a 27 year high in April 2021, and UK manufacturers have recorded the sharpest rise in optimism since 1973. As life returns to normal and restrictions are relaxed, now is the time to look towards the future.

Our belief is that the engineering industry is constantly evolving, and with the number of innovative technologies on the rise, new jobs are being created all the time. In fact, there’s a real demand for these skills in a number of areas. Are new ways of working, technologies and skills positioning us well to continue to build on the success of the UK manufacturing industry?

Digital transformation

Crisis often paves the way for opportunity, and the pandemic has done just that for the manufacturing sector. COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation of a significant volume of organisations within the sector. Digitisation is cost-effective and risk averse and applying this to the manufacturing industry means that companies can make more informed decisions and gain insight into inventory levels, delivery status and demand cycles. 

The impact of the digital transformation on manufacturing is significant and has the potential to revolutionise the industry. Automation creates opportunities to streamline factory operations, increasing productivity and workplace efficiency. The use of cloud-based solutions also encourages collaboration and innovation, connecting suppliers across countries and different companies and sectors. Digitisation is constantly evolving, and with it, the creation of more opportunities for manufacturers.

However, as automation and digitisation continue to permeate throughout the sector many traditional manufacturing jobs will phase out. Indeed, it is estimated robots could replace 2 million manufacturing workers by 2025. This doesn’t mean humans will be a redundant part of the manufacturing lifecycle, just that the skills needed will be different. Going forward, the UK manufacturing industry will need to focus on upskilling to ensure continued success. 

Brexit and external relationships

As the UK looked towards Brexit, new trading regulations with the EU offered potential problems for manufacturers. After the referendum, investment stalled, and large-scale manufacturers took the decision to move plants elsewhere. However, in November 2020, stockpiling for Brexit led to the industry experiencing its best month in three years. Despite a bumpy start to the new trading relationship, the manufacturing industry is back on its feet and continuing to grow.

Green engineering

The government’s sixth Carbon Budget creates new opportunities for the manufacturing sector. For example, a £90 million green manufacturing development in Hull’s Saltend Chemical’s Park is expected to create 100 new jobs, and has brought further new investment into the Park. The drive for a greener future, offers attractive engineering roles with a purpose – something workers are looking for. Indeed, BP’s renewable energy recruitment drive has been its most successful LinkedIn campaign with over 3,000 people applying for roles.

Another example came in January 2021, when a new £27.5 million plastic recycling plant opened in County Durham. It is hoped this is beginning of a greater focus on inbound green manufacturing investment. Instead of shipping waste abroad (notably Turkey, as reported recently in the media), investment in recycling will reduce the UK’s carbon and plastic footprints whilst also serving as a boost to the manufacturing industry.  

As with all sectors, it will take companies some time to recover from the effects of the pandemic. Yet, the pandemic has shown manufacturers are natural problem-solvers. By embracing a new digital future, the manufacturing industry is positioning itself to thrive as a global leader.

Among the engineering industry, there’s a growing demand for those who can demonstrate digital skills, as well as people who can adapt and respond to the needs of the sector. To find out about the many exciting opportunities available, contact our expert team of advisers who have an extensive network of contacts and are committed to placing candidates into exciting, challenging roles within growing businesses.

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