Summer 2019-20 (Q1) National


Welcome to SWMAS Manufacturing Barometer Summer 2019-20 (Q1) report.

Now entering our 10th year, we continue to map opinions and performance trends of the sector as reported by MDs and other senior decision makers working in UK SME manufacturing businesses. There is no better source of strategic and performance insight into UK SME manufacturing businesses, 98% of a sector crucial to the success of the UK’s economy.

This quarter the Manufacturing Barometer reveals a concerning and prolonged downward trend in performance. Although caused by Brexit uncertainty, manufacturers remain persistent in fulfilling their growth aspirations. In exploring their Staffing and Recruitment strategy in the Special Focus the Barometer reveals an introspective plan that manufacturers believe will leave them stronger once Brexit has been concluded.

The unique position of the Manufacturing Barometer means we can compare this latest snapshot of the UK SME manufacturing sector’s performance with our longer-term data. We are working on the 10th Anniversary report in which we will share more insight into how the sector has performed over the last decade and since the 2009 downturn. If you are interested in getting involved in shaping the SWMAS Manufacturing Barometer 10 Year Anniversary report, do get in touch.



Actual performance of manufacturing businesses in the last six months continues to underline the challenge Brexit and its associated uncertainty presents throughout the sector. Nearly a third of SME manufacturers experienced a reduction in sales and the same number experienced a loss in profits. Over a fifth of manufacturers reduced investment in machinery or premises, and over a fifth registered their active reduction in staff numbers.

Looking ahead to what the next six months holds shows gritty determination as half of the UK’s SME manufacturers continue to anticipate an increase in sales, and the number forecasting recruitment of new staff recovers somewhat to 41% after last quarter’s plummet.

Draw a trend line through the reported findings across sales, profits, investment and recruitment, and there is no doubt the swing in performance continues to move downward. It is therefore unsurprising that one in five Barometer respondents reference the need for certainty and nearly 15% define their immediate aspiration as ‘survival’.

However, in unpacking the Staffing & Recruitment Special Focus data, we can show that manufacturing business leaders overall are far from accepting doom and gloom. They are switching their attention to the factors in their control and to driving the productivity of their existing people and processes.



This Special Focus divulges reasons behind findings last quarter that showed intentions to recruit were at a 10-year low.

Just 4% of UK SME manufacturers report that it is easier now compared to this time last year to recruit skilled and motivated people. This is compared with 54% who say they are finding it more difficult. Local talent shortage is a key reason behind the difficulty so many have in recruiting staff, as is the attitude and salary expectations of the candidates themselves – recorded as the top three external factors impacting on manufacturers ability to recruit skilled and motivated staff.



We looked more closely at how manufacturers plan to address the challenge of recruitment and found an emphasis on the proactive steps they are taking in three core areas vital in driving productivity: People, Products and Processes.

One key factor to emerge is the desire to develop new products – a likely catalyst for new sales, potentially in new markets.

Significantly, our manufacturers are putting their weight of effort on improving existing processes and developing existing people.

Manufacturers reflect this in the staffing strategies they are likely to employ in the next 12 months. Nearly 70% of UK SME manufacturers want to concentrate on developing their existing workforce. Training, staff retention practices, leadership development, coaching, and apprenticeships for current staff collectively outweigh strategies to bring new people into the business.


While performance of the UK’s SME manufacturing sector, largely due to Brexit uncertainty, continues to follow a downward trend, manufacturing leaders remain pragmatic. They are improving and fine tuning the inner workings of their business, focusing specifically on driving productivity through existing people and processes. They are considering, too, that new product offerings could well be the key to sales growth amongst new audiences in a post-Brexit world.

Manufacturers, particularly SMEs, need recognition and support from the government that will help them to continue to adapt and to drive productivity through their people, their products and their processes. This will ensure they are leaner, stronger, more competitive and ready to surge ahead once Brexit is finally out of the way.

Download the full Summer 2019-20 Q1 Manufacturing Barometer National report:

2019-20 Q1 Summer Manufacturing Barometer National Report.pdf



Ready to identify opportunities in your business that will help you drive up profit, sales or productivity? Contact us today and discover what business improvement support and funding is available to assist you in achieving your goals:

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Head Office: 01278 767 010

We looked more closely at how manufacturers plan to address the challenge of recruitment and found an emphasis on the proactive steps they are taking in three core areas vital in driving productivity: People, Products and Processes.

Simon Howes, MD, SWMAS