Keeping sight of the challenge

It is always a nice feeling for the New Year to be heralded by a positive set of figures for manufacturing and 2013 is beginning as we must hope it will continue.

This year's festivities were boosted by a growth in both manufacturing output and new orders, which helped to push the influential Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) up to 51.4 last month from 49.2 in November, where anything above 50 signals expansion. While these figures may not be stellar, they do represent a significant return to growth for the sector and are in marked contrast to those coming from some competitor countries. Welcome though figures such as these are, however, it is important for everyone to bear in mind that manufacturing relies on engineering. The fact is that the manufacturing sector can only be successful if the engineering sector is healthy. After all, engineering fundamentally underpins manufacturing and, without significant and sustained investment in those underpinnings, the edifice as a whole will inevitably crumble. And, as 2013 begins, it is crucial to acknowledge that, however positive manufacturing figures may be, engineering still faces some fundamental challenges and requires significant investment from Government, industry and society as a whole. Of all the issues facing the sector, by far the most pressing is the ongoing skills shortage, which threatens to drain the UK's manufacturing base of its lifeblood – skilled workers. With every year that passes, this matter becomes more urgent. Let us hope that 2013 will see some real progress on this. Now that really would make for a Happy New Year.