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December the 3rd 2016 was “Small Business Saturday”, a day where the focus was firmly on trying to persuade people to use their smaller, local businesses when buying food, gifts and essentials. They do it every year.
This day is an attempt to highlight the role small businesses play in our local economies.
However, that is almost a side-issue. You see, many people don’t realise that small businesses make up over 90% of the employers in the UK.
Due to the advertising power of large business, the fact that we are in fact a nation made up of companies with only a handful of employees is forgotten, and so Small Business Saturday aims to raise awareness of that.
Do many children, when considering their options at school, even think about manufacturing jobs? Do they even know about all the different types of manufacturing jobs available to them?
During the 70s, 80s and 90s, manufacturing companies got a lot of bad press, mostly due to the controversy over unions, the constant strikes and the worry that overseas business would soon destroy the UKs core industries.
There was also the fear that new technology would make most jobs in the industry obsolete, and in the case of the automotive sector, many people were indeed replaced by robots.
This wasn’t a purely UK problem, however.
The issue was worldwide, as technology and increased efficiency in manufacturing processes made the production of many low-value items far less labour intensive. Jobs simply had to go for companies to remain competitive.
But manufacturing didn’t go away, and this reduction in one marketplace has had the knock-on effect of causing others to expand.
In fact, even though employment in manufacturing has steadily fallen, figures from the OECD show that output and value have steadily increased since 1945.
Much of this increase is in part due to the growth of more specialist sectors such as automotive and aerospace.
Here we tend to find smaller companies employing fewer people and creating products not at volume, but with very high value.
An increase in training programmes and more investment from government and regional bodies has aimed to increase the skills of the workforce and therefore their value, and it is something the UK excels at.
We are currently experiencing what many commentators are calling “Industry 4.0”, the fourth industrial revolution which is defined as an increase in automation, data exchange and more use of the Internet of things.
This push to a more advanced manufacturing and engineering model is something the UK is well prepared for.
We have some of the best minds in the world based here, and specific government incentives such as R&D Tax Credits help organisations to invest in research. These credits allow companies, who are developing at the cutting edge in their particular field, to get tax relief on the corporation tax if what they create shows an advance in science or technology.
Incentives like these show that rather than being an industry in decline, manufacturing and engineering are simply evolving to changing needs.
It is, therefore, time that these changes became better known.
It’s time manufacturing, which let’s not forget was once the driving force behind the UKs economy, be put back to the front of everyone’s minds.
Maybe it’s time for the UK to have it’s own “Manufacturing day”.
Perhaps then, it will get the recognition it deserves.