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What are the issues facing UK Manufacturing as we go into 2017?

Posted by: Elena Craigie

It’s widely known that the entire STEM (Scientific, Technical, Engineering, Mathematics) Industry is facing a skills crisis, with 55% of businesses within these sectors reportedly feeling a lack of confidence in finding talent with higher level skills. (CBI)

Speaking in the Manufacturer on 8th Nov 2016, Helen Wollaston – Chief Executive of campaigning group WISE – said, “There is a global war for talent […] we cannot afford to lose this war; especially when uncertainty around Brexit is further challenging the economic outlook for the UK.” The Apprenticeship Levy goes some way towards addressing this, as do initiatives around the world designed to attract young people – in particular girls – into studying STEM subjects, but clearly not enough has been done so far.

“We all need to work together to show the incredible opportunities for those who study maths, science and computing […] we all have a role to play in making sure everyone recognises the importance and value of STEM qualifications,” says Helen.

But the Manufacturing sector doesn’t just face problems with staff shortages, it also has to juggle a wide range of other issues simultaneously – including ever-rising energy costs here in the UK as well as the fluctuating prices of import and export due to the weakened pound following the Brexit vote. For this reason and others, manufacturers are putting off investment plans amid fears that the economy will slow.

Where exports are concerned, manufacturing outperforms every other UK sector – accounting for 45% of all UK Exports, but it’s not as simple as saying exporters benefit from the weakened pound, as for the (vast majority of) manufacturers who import raw materials or components, this also works the other way.

Innovation is another hot topic in manufacturing moving into 2017, with technologies constantly advancing to offer higher productivity, but Brexit may affect funding into R&D so it will be important for the sector to hold the government to account regarding this.

Despite the doom and gloom I’ve mentioned above, the sector is looking good moving into 2017. The confidence that was lost in the weeks and months after the Brexit vote seems to be returning, and optimism is fairly high industry wide, with consumer spending remaining strong against the weakened pound.

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