UK manufacturing has been the bedrock of the country’s economy over the years and, after the initial impact of the pandemic through lockdown and social distancing measures, it is now starting to see pockets of growth as we move towards Q3. It is to be expected that some areas of manufacturing have been more buoyant than others, but we are now seeing encouraging signs in multiple areas of the sector. Here we will look at how the industry has pulled together during the pandemic to become more agile and meet the evolving needs of the nation during this unprecedented time of change.
Collaboration and change
No one can ignore the economic effects of the pandemic, but we have seen unity within various industries as a result. Joe Walton, Associate Director, Michael Page, explains: “It is a challenging outlook for the manufacturing world, but people are collaborating together to get through it.” As an example, companies such as Airbus, BAE Systems, GKN Aerospace, Ultra Electronics, Unilever, Williams F1, and Ford Motor Company have joined forces to create 10,000 ventilators for the NHS, proving that manufacturing is playing a key part in this lockdown period.
Nissan has instigated a change management programme which has seen it carry out global restructuring as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It has faced loses of £5 billion (net) in the last financial year alone, but its factory in Sunderland will remain open. This is good news, not just for the region’s job market, but for the country overall. We are already seeing further evidence of things picking up with the construction industry getting back to work too. For construction, this has been especially important for the building materials and aggregate industries, as most materials are manufactured in the UK.
Which areas are seeing an uplift?
The moods within manufacturing have been quite polarised, but there are areas that are starting to do business again. Rob Bales, Operating Director, Michael Page comments: “Automotive OEMs and associated supply chains are resuming production. Aerospace sector and military projects continue, but uncertainty around commercial airlines is likely to last for several months.”
It is clear that aviation and its supply chain are currently facing what is widely recognised as their toughest time ever, and we are seeing civilian manufacturing capacity move towards extended maintenance programmes on grounded fleets. In comparison, those businesses that manufacture medical products have been far busier than they have ever been. This has largely had a knock-on effect on the demand for certain roles. There has been caution within the procurement and supply chain side of manufacturing when looking at existing recruitment drives. Elsewhere, engineer maintenance/mechanical quality entry level roles are still in demand for manufacturing companies, because good quality engineers are hard to find. Marketplace recruitment requirements remain varied in relation to a company’s needs and expectations. Joe Walton comments: “This includes not only salary, but depth of knowledge and also shift pattern, overtime on offer and out of hours working.”
There is also demand for roles within health and safety, and regarding maintenance - production lines, electrical and mechanical engineers – the skills that keep the manufacturing lines running remain much sought after. In terms of purchasing, we are seeing organisations begin to look at risk in international supply chains, alternative sources of materials and components to de-risk and in some sectors localise supply.
General manufacturing in the SME space seems set to be the quickest to pick up. The early signs are that most returns will be project led.
Being agile for the interim
Organisations have had to adapt to our new way of life, and in manufacturing we have seen that consumer food businesses have streamlined product bases and stock keeping units (SKU) to drive productivity through their lines. They have been really busy in supporting the supermarket supply chain while the stores themselves continue to experience a huge rise in customers, which has seen them refocus their recruitment plans to meet demand.
In comparison, pubs, restaurants and cafés have faced the brunt of the social distancing rules as well as food products manufactured to be eaten on the go, e.g. sandwiches, wraps, and suishi. This has seen a big spike in home based convenient food sales as shoppers change their buying habits and online food delivery services like Deliveroo have seen a huge surge in demand, mostly from those who do not feel safe visiting supermarkets. We have also seen demand for luxury food brands increase as consumers seek home based treats
General manufacturing in the SME space seems set to be the quickest to pick up. The early signs are that most returns will be project led, but without specific demand manufacturers will be cautious. As an example, Aston Martin has an advance order book to fulfil for its new SUV DBX vehicle but uncertain how many OEMS will be making to stock.
Adam Bass, Business Manager Life Science & Industrial Michael Page Procurement & Supply Chain, comments: “It is widely accepted that the upturn will be just as steep as the downturn, so we are focused on preparing ourselves for that by carrying out business as normally as possible during the downturn.”
We will inevitably enter a phase of a new normal, although no one is quite sure what that will look like. Regardless, we already know that some of our clients that would prefer to wait and meet face to face and some customers do not have the capability to onboard remotely. Rob Bales remarks: “Where resource is needed, clients are finding ways to make things happen and complete their hiring processes. Embracing technology without fear creates a more forgiving environment for candidates and clients.”
As a business, Michael Page remain innovative and committed to staying ahead in the market. We have been proactive in helping our clients by promoting and using new video interviewing techniques in a time when social distancing measures are in place. We have over 40 years of experience in recruitment, and can advise you on many aspects of work life, and help you to propel your career. If you are looking for a new opportunity or to discuss your options, get in touch with one of our specialist recruitment consultants today.