#4 Providing economic and social inclusion 

It is no longer acceptable for cities to seek growth without ensuring that all citizens are able to benefit from the creation of that value and share in its success. The ‘trickle-down effect’ approach has failed to deliver, resulting in communities (or entire regions) feeling left behind and being exposed to a host of economic and social challenges.54  When seeking development, cities should be looking for policies and approaches which are designed to provide both economic and social benefit. Urban manufacturing can help to do this in several ways.

Diverse employment

Manufacturing currently provides a diverse range of employment opportunities, from entry-level to highly-skilled positions. This offers businesses an important resource of locally available labour. It means that residents can find jobs close to home that fit their skills, interests and competences. It means businesses can open up new fields of work or competencies. It also means that the local market is capable of adjusting and customising products to their needs. 

Manufacturing work is highly diverse. Salaries certainly vary according to role and type of industry but competes on average favourably with other employment sectors.55 Data shows that roles in manufacturing are associated less with precarious working conditions, such as zero hours contracts, than other sectors, like retail.56 The range of roles provides scope for vertical job progression into management positions or technical specialisation. Manufacturing is less associated with the erosion of middle-tier jobs than service industries like retail and finance.57 But since informal and freelance work is common in urban manufacturing and very difficult to detect in available data, statistics can easily distort reality. Companies have also increasingly outsourced or subcontracted non-core activities, which make workforce surveys difficult to distinguish where one business begins and another ends.

The changing nature of manufacturing work is increasingly putting into question what the future of manufacturing employment will look like. Since the 1970’s, with growing productivity, there has been a servicification of the manufacturing sector which has meant that in many companies, more people are employed in services aspects of the manufacturing process (such as sales, design, logistics or management) than in the actual production process. 

Artificial Intelligence, 5G communications networks, advanced robotics and other aspects associated with the digitalisation of manufacturing (referred to as Industry 4.0) have been theorised extensively, resulting in a confusing array of scenarios subject to the capacity and cost of new technology.58 Projections conclude that middle level jobs, in the services sector and manufacturing will be most exposed to automation. Entire jobs are not likely to be replaced by technology, at least overnight. But many tasks which make up jobs could be automated and therefore reduce the demand for workers. It can be useful to distinguish five job typologies, the associated education tracks and the way such jobs will evolve in the near future.

Low skilled manual labour

There are many jobs that are difficult to mechanise but require little training or even official diplomas. Jobs include simple assemblage for limited production runs, warehouse labour, food processing, waste management and basic repair or disassembly. Such jobs are highly accessible (there is a low barrier of entry), often informal (rarely based on long contracts) and generally low paid. This makes such work highly accessible for recent immigrants, the long-term unemployed and people with disabilities. While some of these jobs can be mechanised, such as warehouse labour, there will always be a demand for such labour. The challenge is to match demand and supply. To compensate for the low wages and low profit margins for low skilled labour, work has been increasingly adopted by the social economy sector and social enterprise who combine employment with skills development or supervised positions for disadvantaged workers.

Technical skills

Skilled labour requires specialised technical knowledge of a skill or vocation. Following in the footsteps of the guild system, skills are gained through a mix of institutional education and hands on experience through apprenticeships. Such skills are essential for manufacturing as they generate tacit technical knowledge and material intelligence. While technical vocations were a common and respectable career choice at the beginning of the 20th century, they are increasingly being cast aside by youth for reasons ranging from (perceived) higher paying services jobs, a poor culture of encouraging youth into technical vocations, the closure of technical colleges and training institutions, the reduction of work and the reluctance of youth to take on ‘dirty jobs’. The result is a common shortage of tradespeople (like electricians or plumbers) in many large cities. Training is increasingly requiring digital literacy and complex machine operations needed to improve production quality or reduce production time. Quality training colleges are needed to attract and prepare students for future jobs, rather than simply addressing current demand. When national employment surveys talk of skills shortages, they’re often referring to high skilled technical jobs. Some of these jobs are likely to be exposed to the effects of automation (such as joinery or construction) while others will evolve with it (like electronics).  

Knowledge intensive roles

Knowledge workers generally have followed some form of tertiary STEM related degree (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and have both theoretical and technical knowledge of a topic. Degrees may range from sciences (particularly the natural and formal sciences but also some branches of social science), engineering (all branches including chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical) and design (particularly industrial design). Successful education programmes will immerse students in practical experiences to ensure that theory is well grounded in reality. These jobs are likely to undergo significant changes due to new technology. Some traditional knowledge jobs are becoming redundant due to artificial intelligence and more effective software. Other forms of knowledge intensive roles are replacing manual labour and technical skills through automation. 

Management and public facing roles

Process management, human resources, communications, logistics and sales are a range of jobs that have become increasingly necessary for companies in competitive markets. Like knowledge roles, these jobs generally involve tertiary education. Unlike knowledge roles, they tend to have basic technical knowledge of production processes. These roles are forecast to change significantly over the coming decades as technology either replaces tasks or improves capacities. In some cases these jobs will remain within businesses, but for smaller manufacturers there is an inclination to outsource or subcontract them. Employees may also choose to have career changes and move from knowledge or technical roles into management roles. These roles generally require some on the job training. Furthermore, some of the greatest innovations are likely to emerge from new business practices, particularly in terms of services that help reduce material consumption while retaining existing qualities of life.

Supporting services

While not essential work for manufacturers, there are a range of supporting services that are important for a successful business. Examples include cleaning, logistics, catering and possibly in the future resource management. Such jobs are generally low-paid and low-skill work and often outsourced as the work is rarely core business for manufacturers. 

While there remain large amounts of uncertainty around the future of manufacturing work, hybrid skills are in increasing demand, particularly those linking creative problem solving with tacit knowledge of materials and technology. Considering the future of manufacturing points towards more multi-disciplinary labour, universities and training institutions need to find new ways of teaching content. University College London’s Institute of Making59 provides a very tactile and autodidactic club format where students and staff can embark on missions to address real-world problems. Rotterdam’s RDM facility, a technical training college that shares space with a hub for manufacturing start-ups, teaches students technical skills by setting up projects that are mixed with entrepreneurship challenges.60 Education and training must adapt to rapidly changing technology which means that workers need shorter and more regular forms of training and readiness for life-long-learning. Regardless of education, the quality of work conditions across all sectors is under scrutiny and urban manufacturing firms will be pressed to ensure jobs provide economic security and employee well-being.61

Local economic benefit

Whereas urban service sectors, like finance, are dominated by multinational players, a high proportion of manufacturers are SME (Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises) businesses employing fewer than 250 people, or micro-businesses, employing fewer than 10.62 A significant amount of these smaller businesses depend on the local market for a large part of their income and play an important role within their local communities. 

A UK based research project identified that 80% of small businesses were actively involved in their community, while 30% employ people with a disability or mental health condition and provide their communities with ‘in-kind’ support.63 Whether it be out of altruism or pure private benefit, small businesses must engage in maintaining healthy relationships with other local businesses and institutions, even if in direct competition with similar businesses, as there is always a likelihood that partnerships are necessary to survive. 

The commons and communities of making

Inclusive community oriented organisations are emerging to help sustain city focused manufacturing. Social enterprise, cooperatives and communities of makers are examples of organisations utilising ‘making’ to equitably and inclusively connect communities.64 The first group involves social enterprises, which are non-profit organisations focused on supporting the disadvantaged. These businesses are increasingly providing services for tasks that may have been deemed unprofitable by the private sector. The social economy sector offers two particular benefits: firstly it is a low-threshold entry to work for certain minorities and secondly it can offer a community service for the likes of sorting or treating resources. A second group involves cooperatives that can pool finance or resources to keep equity local or to provide a valuable service to the community that is not available on the market. They can include breweries, energy production or even rental of technology. Cooperatives can be guardians of the commons and may also find a way of retaining certain traditional skills or a particular building.65 A final group includes communities of (often freelance) makers, that operate on small production volumes or customised products and need to pool money to invest in technology or space. Communities may grow around shared workshop spaces or commercial maker-spaces. Such communities may be small but are often an easy way for entrepreneurs to start a production chain or to prototype an idea.

The three groups noted above offer ways of increasing inclusivity. But they are generally founded by people with tertiary education, which can present an entry barrier for some users who are uncomfortable about self organisation and entrepreneurship. Increasingly, multi-actor collaborations (referred to as social alliances), cross-sector social partnerships, or social innovation public-private partnerships are emerging to tackle common problems while also addressing inclusivity challenges.66 

Alternative routes to employment

Domestic ‘making activities’ and access to infrastructure like open workshops and new equipment can help hobbies become fledgling businesses and provide a gateway to supplementary income or entirely new employment opportunities. In the last few years craft industries, such as dressmaking and woodworking have grown in popularity.67 A survey conducted in the UK in 2015 found that 26 percent of people regularly make things for their own use, 57 percent would like to learn how to make more things they and their families could use, and 24 per cent would be interested in using a shared workshop space.68 Businesses may spring from these hobbies particularly with the support of platforms like Etsy and social media, which have lowered barriers to entry and allow makers to sell directly to the public. This can benefit those who wish to grow a business on the side or who may have difficulty accessing the traditional workplace. Public authorities can stimulate small scale entrepreneurship by providing infrastructure (such as space and technology) to test and develop ideas while sharing knowledge and expertise. There are many examples of such spaces including fablabs, makerspaces and community workshops, which often represent a public good and display similar characteristics to the public library of the 19th and 20th centuries.