We live in unprecedented times. Never before have we seen a global business shutdown at a scale anything like this. For months now, while COVID-19 has continued to ravage its way across the world, we have watched as businesses across sectors and industries struggle, be set back, and sometimes fail. In the UK, we’ve been under lockdown for a few months now, and we’ve seen businesses up and down the country struggle to deal with the restrictions of the pandemic. But for British manufacturing, things have been very interesting indeed.
So the saying goes: every cloud has a silver lining. Here at Futures, we’ve been working and recruiting in the manufacturing industry here in the UK for over 25 years, and we’ve seen just how much has changed. It is an industry of innovation and invention and, if there is a silver lining to be found, then it is that British manufacturing stood up and met the challenges of the pandemic – perhaps providing benefits to the industry that could last for years to come.
Back in April as the coronavirus lockdown took over control of the country, shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) were announced at NHS trusts and hospitals across the country. Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, called upon our manufacturers to meet the demand for 10,000 ventilators.
What has happened is that as the country has pulled together with businesses working together and supporting one another, UK manufacturing has managed to shine. The current demand for proper medical equipment has not only highlighted just how important UK manufacturing is to the British economy, but just how innovative and forward thinking it is as an industry too.
The call to action has triggered a nationwide wave of retrofitting, retooling and reinvention amongst our manufacturers. The movement to supply the NHS with the equipment it desperately needed has been done at a level that would have otherwise been seen as impossible before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the manufacturing industry in the UK has worked tirelessly to play a crucial part in helping the country through the pandemic, reaching new levels of coordination and innovation.
This has led many to believe that we will see a change in the perception of the UK manufacturing industry after COVID-19. After all, seeing the resources and supply chain network we have in this country working tirelessly to help us all cope with the pandemic is inspiring and, as such, many believe that it could see lasting benefits to our manufacturing sector and a new and improved public perception and appreciation. The manufacturing sector has done inspiring work, retrofitting and retooling ventilators, PPE and test kits to help us all cope.
We obviously never want to experience a pandemic like COVID-19 ever again, and we will all have to change and learn from the experience. There’s a lot of talk recently about the ‘new-normal’, an interesting buzzword that essentially describes how things will never quite go back to how they were before coronavirus. We know that things won’t be the same again, but that obviously begs the question of how exactly the British manufacturing industry will change in the wake of the events of COVID-19. Questions such as:
Well, the truth is that the answer to all of these is likely going to be: yes. But, of course, to varying degrees. None of us are blessed with clairvoyance and predicting the future is an unpredictable game. Growth in the industry seems inevitable, but it will require investment and innovative thinking. Throughout COVID-19, there have been tales of manufacturing companies getting things done in days what would usually have taken months. The groundwork for industry wide change has already been laid.
We can already expect local sourcing to change and become a more important part of our manufacturing sector. There will be a newfound emphasis on the resilience of supply chains and production. UK manufacturing has long taken an approach to supply chains that focuses on protecting efficiency and keeping costs down, sourcing components from abroad where it is cheaper. Many are predicting a stronger domestic supply chain in the UK manufacturing industry after COVID-19.
Many are also expecting better cross company and intercompany integration. We have already noticed this in the UK where competitors have worked together in order to more quickly and efficiently produce protective equipment for the NHS. Disruption of established relations should be expected as more manufacturers are realising the importance of sharing knowledge, experience and insight. We have even seen supply chains become so integrated that different firms have begun to second staff to each other. This is a new level of nimbleness and flexibility that we might expect to see more of moving forward. This new level of demand could see manufacturing companies choosing to break up the existing, traditional and rigid processes by forming more flexible groups instead.
On a more granular level, worker health and safety will certainly be something that takes on the shape of a ‘new normal’. Beyond PPE such as jackets, gloves and helmets, there will be a new emphasis on keeping your workers healthy. There will need to be social distancing measures put into place, disease detection will likely take on a new importance, and no one has to be reminded of the crucial need for proper hand washing now.
Manufacturers will also need to improve work with suppliers. Whether local or not, suppliers will need more support and attention in the future, with some companies even considering establishing funds to ensure support and to reinforce the supply chain. Supply problems at crucial times are an absolute nightmare, and we expect manufacturers to begin integrating data and systems in the future in an attempt to better predict potential supply problems for proactive management.
It’s also easy to see that manufacturers will likely become more automated and will invest heavily into digital tools after COVID-19. There are multiple reasons for this, including the fact that social distancing and keeping staff physically separated paves the way for increased automation and the fact that a new reliance and emphasis on UK manufacturing could see increased investment. It has long been said that British manufacturing has needed to invest in automation for a long term and sustainable model, but we have been slow out of the gates compared to other countries. There’s a level of apathy and contentment that will now likely be shaken up.
British manufacturing is at a crossroads, and how the industry evolves post COVID-19 is yet to be seen. But we do know just how admirably innovative and nimble our manufacturing sector has been in meeting the demands of the pandemic. Want to find out more about how we work with and recruit for the manufacturing industry here at Futures? Get in touch with us today to find out more. With the right investment and support, UK manufacturing has an incredibly bright future ahead after the events of COVID-19.