One of the most enjoyable parts of our jobs at the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) is that we spend our days talking to many of the most innovative and creative people in the Australian business community.
Those are the entrepreneurial individuals driving the thousands of manufacturing businesses that contribute more than $100 billion a year to our economy and directly, and indirectly, employ more than 1.27 million people. That represents more than 10 per cent of Australia’s workforce – and this share is growing.
As we have those conversations, we regularly find that the discussion turns to how manufacturing is perceived in Australia. This is significant because it affects everything from people’s understanding of our economy to their purchasing decisions and career choices.
This month’s Manufacturers’ Monthly showcases fabrication. It is a great example of how the perception of the term fabrication stirs up images of sparks flying in industrial surroundings yet, we know it to be so much more than that. The fabrication industry is highly advanced, employing highly skilled and highly capable staff who work in almost every sector where something is made, from food and beverage, to medical and space.
Take for example, AMGC member and project participant, Varley Group situated in the Hunter region of New South Wales. Founded in 1886, Varley group began as a small plumbing and boiler making business. Today, Varley is still that same fabrication business at heart, however through the adoption of technology, and investment into research and design Varley is now known as an innovative engineering and manufacturing company – and rightly so.
As a result of its commitment to continual advancement over 135 years, Varley now possesses substantial advanced manufacturing capabilities which leverage all seven key functions of manufacturing – those being research and development, design, distribution, production, logistics, sales and service. This has ensured that Varley has maintained its competitive advantage to become a trusted partner of local and global defence, emergency services, marine, rail and infrastructure clients.
The point here is that the perception of Varley depends on a person point of view and knowledge. Therefore, it is important to spend the time to investigate what the publics’ perception of manufacturing is – of which fabrication is a vital capability – so that we can better communicate what it is the industry actually does and how it is advancing.
To do so, we surveyed a representative group of Australians to uncover how they perceive the manufacturing industry. I am excited to share upfront that the results revealed in this report show a range of positive and changing sentiments.
One of our key findings is that almost three-quarters of Australians believe manufacturing is important or very important to our economy. This is higher than our last survey in 2019 and may reflect people’s new appreciation of the value of having a strong and advanced manufacturing capability during the COVID-19 crisis.
In addition, we find that Australians have started to recognise that manufacturing is becoming more sophisticated and features high-skill roles. Further, almost two-thirds of respondents believe Australian-made products are higher quality than imported products and worth paying a premium for.
I would also emphasise that manufacturing is a core capability that is integral to Australia’s strength in almost every area of the economy. For instance, there is significant manufacturing activity embedded within the healthcare, agriculture, education and defence verticals, which respondents to our research flag as being critical to our prosperity.
The industry and government should build on the positive momentum highlighted in this report as we embrace the many opportunities we have before us. By shining a light on people’s perceptions of manufacturing, we hope this research helps to guide the strategies of the businesses, policy makers and investors who are shaping our industry’s bright future and creating a break from past misperceptions.
I encourage all members of the manufacturing industry to read our report and see for yourself just how much positive sentiment is out there for this critical national capability.
By AMGC managing director Dr Jens Goennemann.