Government moves to help manufacturers build shiny new image

Manufacturing HR directors have backed a government shake-up to boost the sector’s image at a time when job losses and factory closures are dominating the headlines.

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will publish guidance early this week, following consultation with business groups including the CBI, on how to improve the public perception of a career in manufacturing – from how employers advertise jobs to how the sector is promoted in schools.

The strategy will also highlight commercial opportunities in developing low-carbon parts and products.

Richard Brailsford, HR director at wood-care products firm Ronseal told Personnel Today: “Manufacturing has a reputation for being difficult, heavy, and unpleasant [work]. In the education system the only way manufacturing gets a look-in is as part of the history syllabus – about mills in the 1800s and people getting their limbs ripped off.”

But in the modern environment there are many manufacturing jobs that involve the use of computers and which are not labour-intensive, he said.

Colin Atkin, HR manager at can-making machinery firm Carnaudmetalbox Engineering, agreed there was a stereotype among younger workers that manufacturing work was grim.

And Ivan Shearer, head of HR at aerospace engineering giant BAE Systems, said HR could play a key role in revitalising the industry by encouraging a variety of entry routes, from apprenticeships to mature-entry schemes.

“There are particularly negative images associated with manufacturing and it’s perceived as a poor career option,” said Shearer. “We need to focus on the technology associated with manufacturing, our proud tradition and the variety of career options it offers.”

The report comes hot on the heels of news that activity in the sector, which employs three million people in the UK, fell for the fourth consecutive month in August, raising fears of a full-blown recession.

Manufacturing accounts for about 15% of British GDP.

Steve Radley, chief economist at manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, said: “The report recognises the contribution manufacturing makes. Everyone’s got a role [to boost manufacturing] it is not sensible to leave it to the government.”

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