Confidence amongst small and medium-sized (SME) manufacturers in the West Midlands is at its highest level for two years, a new report has found.
The latest Manufacturing Barometer – which is carried out by the Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP) and SWMAS (the South West Manufacturing Advisory Service) – revealed that 62 per cent of firms in the region are expecting to increase sales between now and October, while 54 per cent indicated that they are planning to boost investment over the next six months.
And out of the 61 firms questioned, nearly half highlighted an increased need to recruit staff over the coming months.
Martin Coats, managing director of the Manufacturing Growth Programme, said: “Small to medium-sized manufacturers in the West Midlands experienced a positive quarter’s trade between January and March, with nearly half reporting an increase in sales, compared to 24 per cent in the previous barometer.
“Whilst Covid-19 has been challenging, it has accelerated new ways of working, some of which have proven to be more effective.”
The quarterly survey took an in-depth look at how manufacturing SMEs are recovering from the pandemic and found that 44 per cent of respondents now expect to return to – or exceed – their pre-Covid-19 position within three months.
On the jobs front, although 77 per cent of businesses have utilised the government’s furlough scheme at some point in the last year, only 38 per cent are still using it today.
The report also reveals that new working practices are being implemented because of the pandemic, with nearly two fifths of business leaders questioned now planning to offer their employees some level of remote working.
This is an increase of 24 per cent on the number who were offering this before the virus started.
Martin said: “38 per cent of manufacturers have said they will continue to offer some form of remote working going forward, which would have been unheard of 15 months ago. These beneficial changes will offer employees more flexibility and, ultimately, a better work/life balance.
“Firms often cite that recruiting skilled staff can be a challenge. With this in mind, it is vital that they understand the working practices offered by other employers across the sector to help them compete and attract the best talent.”
He added: “SME manufacturers are definitely feeling confident about the future, but there will still be a lot of challenges to overcome, not least the availability and lead times of material.
“Government will need to consider future support to help the manufacturing industry navigate the coming months.”