A new poll shows that the general public thinks manufacturing is hugely important to the future of the UK economy post-Brexit and that Government should place more value on it, but there are massive misperceptions about the pay and opportunities it offers, as well as its world ranking.
According to the survey carried out by YouGov for EEF, the manufacturers' organisation and law firm Womble Bond Dickinson almost three quarters of people (70%) agree that the UK cannot tackle future problems without a strong manufacturing sector. The sector also comes first when asked which sector is likely to provide a solution to a number of the challenges facing the UK and also scores highly with the public for trust.
When further probed, 69% believe that manufacturing is important to secure our place in the global economy, especially in the context of Brexit, while 61% feel that a strong manufacturing sector is important to secure employment for future generations.
According to EEF and Womble Bond Dickinson, this strong public backing for the importance of manufacturing has significant implications for the direction of policy, with Government urged to invest more in the sector. 79% of people believe that politicians should place more value on manufacturing and half (49%) that more should be spent on training the next generation of manufacturers.
However, despite the public placing a high value on the role of manufacturing only a fifth of parents want their children to work in the sector. When asked why, a third of parents think the sector is poorly paid whilst just over a quarter say they do not want their offspring working on a production line. In addition, almost one fifth say they do not want their child doing manual labour, a factor which has huge implications at a time when apprenticeships and technical skills are so critical.
The extent of misperception about pay is that average earnings in manufacturing exceed significantly average earnings in the whole of the UK economy and services, but just 16% of the public are aware of this and the financial opportunities opting for a career in manufacturing could bring.
Nearly a quarter of those with boys say they would (24%) be happy for their children to work in the sector compared to just 14% of those with girls. Reasons for the gender divide are dominated by feelings that the industry is too male dominated and that there are less opportunities for girls working in it as a result.
The survey also showed the understanding of Britain's international standing was extremely underrated. The British public believes that the UK is ranked at 56th in the world in terms of value of products made, which is actually the position of Kazakhstan. The reality is that the UK is in fact in the top ten performing manufacturing countries around the globe sitting at 9th place in the world and two thirds of respondents say they want the UK to push into the top five.
Stephen Phipson, CEO of EEF, the manufacturers' organisation said: "It is clear that there are massive misconceptions about manufacturing although it is pleasing that the UK public feels the sector is important for the country's economy and that Government should invest more in its future.
"Clearly we need to continue to push Government to work with industry to invest more in creating the next generation of manufacturers to ensure we are able to maintain Britain's impressive place in global manufacturing, and go on to improve further and grow."
Peter Snaith, Partner and Head of Manufacturing at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, added:
"Manufacturing provides enormous value to the UK economy. It is encouraging that the public's perception acknowledges this, with widespread confidence in the manufacturing industry's ability to solve many of the UK's challenges. The companies we work with are proof of this – embracing technologies to enhance their productivity and compete on a global scale."