WHAT THE MANUFACTURING LANDSCAPE LOOKS LIKE IN A LOCKDOWN
Since ‘Covid-19’ first became a whispered-about worry in early 2020, manufacturers across the globe have been hit by the pandemic in both unexpected and unprecedented ways.
For the first time in memory, demand, supply and workforce availability were impacted at the same time on a global scale.
Manufacturing is one of the key sectors that the team here at White Label work in, so we understand how hard the last few months have been and have done our best to support all our clients.
In the UK, we are now going through our third Lockdown, which came into effect on 5th January and at present it is still not known when this will end. People in England are only allowed to leave their homes for specific reasons, including going to work if it has to be done on site. Thankfully, this includes the manufacturing and construction industries.
Let’s take a closer look at what has transpired over the past 12 months and how the manufacturing industry has responded to it, and what can be done to find opportunities and hope in the coming 12 months.
The Manufacturing Industry and Lockdown 1
In a televised address on 23rd March – the likes of which most of us have only ever experienced in a movie – Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement that “people must stay at home”.
Following initial confusion and uncertainty within industry of whether that command applied to people working in manufacturing, the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) asked the government to clarify their position. The answer was that “workers in manufacturing should go to work as normal where they cannot work from home and are fit to do so, while continuing to observe public health guidelines in relation to maintaining a distance of at least two metres from others and regular hand-washing.”
Once this had been established, most UK manufacturers rolled up their metaphorical sleeves and got back to work. Interestingly, some companies pivoted in what they were making, responded to demand and started to produce the testing kits, sanitisers, PPE and other products that were identified as essential in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.
It unequivocally demonstrated how truly special this industry is and how capable it is of being flexible and adaptive.
The Manufacturing Industry and Lockdown 2
As Britain officially passed one million cases of the COVID-19 virus, it was announced that a month-long lockdown in England was coming into force from Thursday, 5th November. Millions of people were once again ordered to stay at home.
However, the manufacturing industry’s position was clearer than before as Boris Johnson also specified that “workplaces should stay open where people can’t work from home – for example in the construction or manufacturing sectors.”
The Manufacturing Industry and Lockdown 3
The latest national lockdown in England was announced in early January with the government website stating: ‘You can only leave home for work purposes where it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home, including but not limited to people who work within critical national infrastructure, construction or manufacturing that require in-person attendance’.
Most manufacturing companies are now much better prepared for the rules and are managing to continue their productions, within the required social distancing precautions.
In the face of the new Lockdown, Stephen Phipson, Chief Executive of Make UK stated that: “This fight is likely to occupy much of the coming year and, just as it has done since the start of the crisis, industry has supported the national effort and will continue to do so.
“In return, it is now critical Government revisits the business support packages. Whilst measures such as the furlough scheme are very welcome, businesses are taking on substantial debt, deferring tax bills, postponing mortgage payments and facing empty order books; this cannot continue indefinitely.”
Manufacturers, while mainly in support of the restrictions designed to halt the virus, also have expressed some concern, although they have been keen to be optimistic at the same time.
Tony Hague, CEO of PP Control & Automation, commented: “My only concern is that if demand dips in certain sectors, some companies may take the decision – based on costs – that it is more effective to furlough staff and close the doors rather than look to operate at a reduced capacity.
“Now, once again, is the time for UK manufacturers to be bold, brave and innovative and seize the opportunities, however challenging the landscape may be.”
Despite the impact of COVID-19, it is undeniable to say that manufacturing remains a fundamental part of the British economy. In 2019 – 2020 the manufacturing sector’s annual output accounted for £192bn to the UK’s economy and employed some 2.7 million people.
With an industry as resilient and important as this, it needs to be looked upon as one of the most powerful sources of economic recovery as we look to the future.
On a global scale, designers and engineers have proven how indispensable and variable the manufacturing industry is, with companies pivoting at lightning speed from making masks instead of cars, ventilators instead of airplane parts. It just goes to show that not all sectors of the industry have been negatively affected by COVID-19; the medical devices, pharmaceutical, chemicals, and defence sectors have all remained relatively unscathed and other pockets of growth are emerging as well.
In a very real sense, there is an opportunity here for the manufacturing industry to spearhead the country’s economic fightback.
With Chancellor Rishi Sunak vowing to spend a record £600bn on infrastructure over the next five years, manufacturing companies have got to position themselves to make the most of it.
Realistically, the last 12 months will forever change the shape of the UK manufacturing industry and it looks like it will be for the good of industry rather than to its detriment.
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