A new report has revealed that small and medium sized manufacturers are planning to take on more staff in a bid to boost productivity and sales.

The latest National Manufacturing Barometer, conducted by SWMAS (part of Exelin Group) in partnership with Economic Growth Solutions, questioned almost 300 manufacturing SME leaders on the current economic picture, with 53% of them expressing their intention to hire more employees over the next six months.

This is 5% up on the last quarter and the highest figure reported for over two years, illustrating a strong confidence in the marketplace despite uncertainly over Brexit and trade talks.

In other positive news, the quarterly survey reported that 60% of manufacturers saw increase in sales, with 68% expecting orders to rise between now and the end of the year.

Investment aspirations – whilst slightly down on the last report – are still healthy, with just under half (48%) planning to spend on new machinery and premises.

Simon Howes, CEO of Exelin Group, commented: “The need to focus on recruitment comes as no surprise and reflects what manufacturers are telling us about their concerns around productivity and the availability of people.

“As we approach Brexit, it’s important to recognise that UK SME manufacturing is proving resilient. The analysis of the key trends and comments in this quarter’s Barometer points to firm intentions of growth, improved productivity and increasing profitability.”

Dean Barnes, Regional Director of Economic Growth Solutions, said: “It’s perhaps a symptom of the current political and uncertain economic climate that this latest survey highlights clear messages around the need for stability, diversification and exploring new ways of achieving goals.

“New markets, premises, products, service development, better machinery, increasing brand awareness and, most importantly, the recruitment of apprentices and skilled staff were all heavily referenced as part of the feedback we received from respondents.”

The National Barometer’s special focus found many SMEs lacked skilled staff within their manufacturing teams, particularly with technical levels in design, general management and operational levels in sales and marketing.

Bosses also had concerns about the quality of staff training, the attitude of some new recruits, salary expectations and the cost and quality of recruitment.

Simon Howes concluded: “Small to medium sized manufacturers have retained a strong sense of pragmatic optimism and are clearly thinking of their pipeline of skilled and motivated employees when it comes to the stability and growth of their business.

“Moving closer to the new industrial and post-Brexit landscape, the need for a wide strategic view of productivity has never been so important.”

The Manufacturing Barometer is the largest survey conducted of SME manufacturers in the UK and asks senior decision makers for their views on factors influencing business performance and the future of the sector.

To view the full report, click here.