James Selka discusses the True Impact of UK Manufacturing Report providing his insights on UK manufacturing and its crucial role in the economy.

James Selka, CEO of the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA), discusses his motivations behind the True Impact of UK Manufacturing Report, carried out by Oxford Economics and MTA. He gives his views on the industry’s current challenges and the potential solutions to ensure a robust future for UK manufacturing.

“I left school at 16, did an engineering apprenticeship followed by a business degree, and spent a significant amount of time in the industry before joining the MTA,” Selka recounts. His leadership role at the MTA places him at the heart of the network that includes machine tool providers, forming machines, software, additive manufacturing, robotics, metrology and all other technologies essential to engineering factories. This provides Selka with a unique perspective on the sector’s needs and opportunities. Selka’s responsibilities also include organising MACH, the national engineering and manufacturing exhibition. New findings were launched at MACH 2024 showing that manufacturing impacts £518 billion of UK GDP and supports 7.3 million jobs.

The reassessment

The True Impact of UK Manufacturing Report, originally published in 2018 and recently refreshed, aims to rectify misconceptions about the manufacturing sector’s economic impact. Selka emphasises the necessity of this report: “Manufacturing is often seen as a poor cousin to other industries by policymakers and the government. The sector is officially said to constitute 8% of the UK’s GDP, including food production, which diminishes the perceived size of engineering based manufacturing.”

Selka believes this figure is misleading: “Manufacturing accounts for more than one third of the UK’s exports and nearly 50% of non-governmental R&D investment. These statistics don’t align with the notion of a declining sector. The report seeks to explain this discrepancy by considering the indirect supply chain and related economic benefits, which reveal a more accurate contribution of around 23% to the GDP.”

The refreshed report highlights the resilience of the sector, even in the face of Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, and global geopolitical tensions. “This demonstrates the vital role manufacturing plays not just in economic terms, but also in national self-sufficiency from vaccine production to defence capabilities and achieving net zero targets,” says Selka.

Current concerns

One of the most pressing challenges, according to Selka, is attracting talent to the industry. “There are about 60,000 unfilled jobs in manufacturing right now,” he states. This shortage is exacerbated

by outdated perceptions of manufacturing jobs as dirty or unstable. Selka counters this notion,

arguing that modern manufacturing is a dynamic, technologically advanced field offering high-paid,

stable careers.

Automation and robotics, often feared as job destroyers, are actually seen by Selka as job creators. “Far from taking jobs, there’s evidence that automation leads to more employment opportunities and better wages. It’s an exciting time to join the industry, as technology enables more efficient and responsive production processes.”

Selka also highlights the inefficiencies of overproduction and long supply chains. “Traditional batch manufacturing, which involves buying big quantities from overseas and shipping them over to the UK, often results in excess inventory, wasted resources, and unnecessary costs. By adopting smarter production strategies, we can reduce waste and increase competitiveness, making a strong

case for local manufacturing.”

Call for investment

Reaching net zero emissions is a significant but surmountable challenge for the manufacturing sector. “Companies making smart decisions to reduce waste and improve efficiency are already seeing benefits, particularly in response to recent energy price spikes,” says Selka. He believes that continued innovation and investment in new technologies are crucial for maintaining this momentum.

Government support is also critical. Selka acknowledges recent funding announcements as a positive step but calls for more consistent advocacy and public education about the value of manufacturing. “The government’s £4.5 billion investment over the next decade is welcome, but we need sustained support and public awareness to change cultural perceptions about manufacturing careers.”

Selka advocates for targeted investment in key sectors such as hydrogen production, aerospace, and electric vehicles. “Our members provide the technology that underpins these industries. Ensuring that UK manufacturers have access to the latest technologies is vital for maintaining our competitive edge.” Investment in people is equally important. “Without skilled workers to operate new technologies, financial investments alone won’t suffice. We need to focus on training and apprenticeships to build a workforce capable of driving the industry forward.”

Role of AI

Selka is optimistic about the role of AI in manufacturing. “AI is a powerful tool for optimising processes and managing large datasets. While it can’t yet think disruptively like a human, it excels at improving efficiency and saving time on routine tasks.” He views AI as an asset that complements human ingenuity rather than replacing it currently.

A gift to the industry

The True Impact of UK Manufacturing Report aims to elevate the profile of UK manufacturing both within the industry and to external stakeholders. Selka hopes it will serve as a catalyst for broader recognition and support. “Our partners – Lloyds Bank, The High Value Manufacturing Catapult, Siemens, and Make UK – who have sponsored our report, share our vision for a strong manufacturing sector. This report is our collective gift to the industry, providing a clear, compelling case for its importance to the UK’s economic health.”

Selka’s insights reveal a sector ready for transformation, driven by technology, talent, and investment. His optimism for the future of UK manufacturing is rooted in a deep understanding of its challenges and a clear vision for its potential. Selka hopes that this report will keep manufacturing in the headlines and improve the lives of UK citizens.

Written by Mankirat Kaur

To top