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A new study of 2,436 people shows the majority of the general public thinks manufacturing is hugely important to the future of the UK economy and over three-quarters see manufacturing as delivering solutions today to the challenges of tomorrow.  Perceptions about pay working conditions and career prospects have also undergone a massive transformative change for the better, according to the survey Perceptions vs Reality carried out by Savanta or Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation and Sheffield Hallam University.

When we last surveyed the British public five years ago the story was bleak. People cited negative media coverage, and an overall feeling that Britain didn’t “make things any more”. But now, 93% tell us they feel manufacturing is critical to growing the UK economy, compared with just 70% five years ago.

The turning point was Covid. Automotive makers built ventilators for our NHS, clothing and textile companies repurposed to make medical gowns and facemasks while food and drink factories made hand sanitisers and ensured our essential household needs were met. Britain’s pharmaceutical companies led the way in producing the game-changing vaccines that let life return to normal.

The positive press coverage generated during Covid shifted perceptions, leaving behind a realisation of the importance of Britain’s industrial base. Now parents see manufacturing as a high skilled, high tech and high wage sector. The average food and drink quality manager in the South East typically earns £61k while a purchasing manager in Yorkshire and the Humber will take home an average of £51k, 9% above the national average.

Far from being in decline, the UK is home to two of the top ten global pharma companies (GSK and AstraZeneca), one in five jet engines in service across the world are made by Rolls Royce and manufactured in the UK, six out of ten of top Formula One Grand Prix teams have their advanced manufacturing base in the UK and it ranks third in the world for aerospace manufacturing by value. The UK is also the largest destination for space investment after the US, projected to account for 10% of the global space market by 2030.

The gender divide was stark in 2018 when nearly a quarter of parents (24%) would encourage their son to work in manufacturing, this fell to just 14% for daughters. But through innovative outreach work and campaigns by manufacturing companies to encourage girls into engineering and manufacturing, now 36% of mums and dads would be happy for their daughters to work in the sector, while 44% of parents would encourage boys to work in manufacturing.

Five years ago, the public guessed the UK was 56th in the world ranking of manufacturing nations, the position occupied by Kazakhstan. This time they were a little more accurate putting Britain at 43rd spot, the position held by the UAE. The UK is actually ranked 8th in the world, up one place in from 9th in 2018.

Manufacturing is the engine of economic growth and it is pleasing that the UK public shares our view that the sector is critical for the country’s economy.

Manufacturers have been working hard to reduce their energy use and slash carbon emissions – demonstrating their commitment to net zero. The pubic have recognised this with over half the public believes manufacturing is an environmentally friendly.

The hard work and resilience of manufacturers over the last few years has paid off and this is reflected in the uptick of perceptions among the British public. But there is still work to be done as over half of children surveyed had not even considered a job in manufacturing. National Manufacturing Day is an opportunity to showcase what the sector has to offer to the next generation of makers, creators and innovators.
Stephen Phipson CEO, CBE, Make UK
Sheffield Hallam University has a rich heritage in supporting both the regional and national manufacturing sector and welcomes this report and the positive perceptions it highlights about UK manufacturing.

The University is committed to working alongside manufacturing clients to understand the skills needs and develop talent pipelines that will meet the challenges facing the sector highlighted in the report.
John Sorsby Business Development Manager, Sheffield Hallam University 
The manufacturing sector plays a vital role in the UK economy, contributing £224bn in gross value added in 2022, directly supporting 2.6 million jobs and helping to drive innovation and exports.

 We are determined to provide UK manufacturers with the cutting edge over our competitors which is why we have developed our Critical Minerals Refresh and upcoming Critical Imports and Supply Chains strategy to help stimulate growth and ensure we can continue to land investment wins.
Nusrat Ghani Minister for Industry and Economics Security  
It is great to see the British public backing the manufacturing industry this National Manufacturing Day. The sector is vital in our mission to grow the economy and is one of five areas we’ve identified as key to secure the UK’s growth and future prosperity.

Alongside supporting industry, we’re also helping people capitalise on the opportunities the sector has to offer. Our national jobcentre network links businesses with local talent, offering tailored training and employment opportunities up and down the country.

Savanta surveyed 2,436 people between the 20th and 28th June 2023.
Guy Opperman MP Minister for Employment
It is fantastic to see that attitudes towards manufacturing have shifted. Manufacturing is at the very heart our skills and apprenticeships nation, which is we’re making sure more people can gain the skills they need to secure rewarding careers in this growing sector.  

This includes apprenticeships available in everything from wind turbines and nuclear to cars and furniture where people can earn while they learn the skills that employers need.

There are also manufacturing based T Levels, Free Courses for Jobs, Skills Bootcamps, and by next September, Higher Technical Qualifications. So no matter what age, background or career stage, there is an opportunity to climb the ladder of opportunity.

Robert Halfon Minster for Skills, Apprentice and Higher Education

Read full report here: Perceptions vs Reality | Make UK

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