Graham Blair: Growth on the agenda for manufacturers

Graham Blair, regional director for Bank of Scotland. Picture: Contributed
Graham Blair, regional director for Bank of Scotland. Picture: Contributed
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Manufacturing is enjoying a period of renaissance across Scotland, with sectors such as textiles, automotive and chemicals performing well.

In particular, our food and drink industry is returning strong results, with demand being driven by a reputation for quality and provenance.

Investing in automation brings huge benefits in terms of efficiency and productivity

Graham Blair

Overall, the sector currently employs 9 per cent of the national workforce, a figure that has grown in recent years. This workforce contributes 11 per cent of the national economy, reflecting encouraging productivity levels across Scottish manufacturing.

This progressive outlook reflects the results of the latest Markit UK manufacturing PMI. The survey recorded its highest score since the start of 2016, demonstrating the industry’s resilient attitude to drive growth in the face of global uncertainty.

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Indeed, manufacturing is now more important to the success and growth of the national economy than ever before. For manufacturers with ambitions to increase sales and gain a larger market share, exporting in particular represents a significant opportunity.

It’s important that small and medium-sized firms, some of whom may be first-time exporters, seek advice about issues surrounding overseas trade, from compliance with foreign law to managing time and cultural differences.

The team of specialist manufacturing relationship managers at Bank of Scotland regularly work with businesses to identify ways to achieve export growth whilst navigating these challenges. Additionally, organisations such as Scottish Development International and local chambers of commerce exist to support businesses on the export journey by offering guidance on how to access skills, insight and trading opportunities.

Taking advantage of the growth opportunities that arise both domestically and overseas often relies on firms innovating and diversifying product lines and services. To do this, more businesses are considering adopting some degree of automation, if they haven’t already.

Investing in automation brings huge benefits in terms of efficiency and productivity, which in turn can encourage growth throughout all areas of a firm. Our experience of working with customers has shown that the growth generated by investing in robotics and automation can create opportunities for firms to expand their workforce rather than reducing it.

However, with a British Automation & Robot Association study showing there are only 27 robotic units per 10,000 manufacturing employees within the UK, compared with 137 in Germany, 113 in Italy and 59 in France, it’s clear that we still have a way to go to educate management teams as to the advantages of automation.

Looking ahead, the countdown has begun to September’s Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) conference, and the event promises to offer a valuable insight into the industry’s current state, and its future prospects.

As sponsors of the Scottish MAS conference, we’re looking forward to discussing how we can work with ambitious manufacturing firms, providing the support and guidance that can help the industry fly the flag for Scotland on a global scale.

• Graham Blair is regional director for Bank of Scotland