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Pioneering research explores industry view of productivity

Dr Jillian MacBryde DMEM

From the board room to the shop floor, a study by academics aims to get an industry perspective on what UK manufacturers think about productivity.

Led by Strathclyde's Professor Jillian MacBryde, the ‘Pioneer Project’ funded by the Economic and Social Research Council through the Productivity Insights Network (PIN), probes how productivity is managed and measured within different sectors.

The aim is to provide a new insight into the realities of productivity and to highlight the key influences that drive, hold back and enable it for UK manufacturers.

UK headlines

Professor MacBryde said: “The project came about after a conversation with fellow manufacturing professors and us all saying we had seen all the UK headlines about productivity being poor. We agreed that wasn’t really what we were hearing when we went out to see manufacturers as it’s far from all doom and gloom.

The thing that struck us is that when manufacturers talk about productivity they weren’t really talking about the same thing as the economists and the politicians.

“I think at the outset our project was saying that if productivity is so important at the national level, then surely you have to bring that down to the level of the firms and the people within them?

“We’re not really seeing that happen, we’re seeing conversations between the economists and politicians but really we need to engage the people who are in the firms making the things.”

Along with partners in the project, Professors Peter Ball at the University of York, Ben Clegg at Aston University and Palie Smart at Bristol University, the workforces of UK firms in the aerospace, automotive, food and drink and pharmaceutical sectors are being interviewed.

Staff from senior executives, through to management and those on the shop floor, will be asked their views on productivity.

Professor MacBryde added: "For the first time we are going into manufacturing organisations and asking them if they talk about productivity and what it means to them.

“Early indicators show that they’re not talking about the same thing as the economists and politicians and they’re not even talking about the same thing when you go from company to company.

“For some companies they are talking purely about efficiency, but it’s not enough just being efficient. You can take as much waste out of the system as possible, but actually if you’re not being effective and serving the right markets, then your business could still be in big trouble.

“We can see examples of companies who have been very efficient but they haven’t succeeded.”

Inform policy

The findings will be shared with industry and policymakers and will be used to inform UK policy. Participants will also be invited to a UK-wide series of round-table forums for industry and Government.

Professor MacBryde added: “I think the findings will be interesting to politicians and means that the voice of people in industry can be heard by policy makers.”

The Productivity Insights Network programme will have further calls for proposals which provides an opportunity for the University to bid for funding to build on existing work and allow collaboration across departments or Faculties in this area.