Public now believes manufacturing is critical to the UK economy and over half think the sector is a good career choice

Posted on 28 Sep 2023 by The Manufacturer

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. 

Key findings:

  • 93% of people felt that UK manufacturing is important to growing the UK economy, up from just 70% five years ago
  • Five years ago, just 20% of parents would want their child to work in the sector. Now 40% would be happy for their children to pursue a career in manufacturing
  • And a further 42% would encourage a manufacturing career depending on the job type or role
  • Five years back just 14% of mums and dads would allow their daughters to take a manufacturing job against 24% of those with sons
  • But now 36% of parents of girls are happy for manufacturing to be their daughter’s career choice while 44% would encourage boys to enter the sector
  • Misconceptions about pay have also improved – with almost half of parents believing manufacturing to be a well-paid career
  • Public thinks Britain is the 43rd biggest manufacturing nation, reality is it’s 8th

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.

Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK said:

“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.”

John Sorsby, Business Development Manager, Sheffield Hallam University said:

“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.”

Savanta surveyed 2,436 people between the 20th and 28th June 2023.

Read full report here: Perceptions vs Reality | Make UK

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