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Manufacturers face ‘pivotal moment’ on flexible hours

New research has found that manufacturers are among those gaining the most from changing work patterns during COVID-19 and should seize the moment to do more.

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The report from think tank IPPR looks at the dramatic changes to millions of people’s working hours and routines during the pandemic and how a more innovative approach to work could benefit employers – including in sectors not traditionally seen as suitable for flexible working, like manufacturing and engineering.

According to IPPR, most manufacturing employees were working between 35 and 44 hours per week before the pandemic, with only one in ten working part-time. Two in five said they would rather work fewer hours, with nearly a third willing to work fewer hours even if that meant less pay.

Research released in June found that manufacturing and engineering were among the most unprepared sectors for adapting their working practices to COVID-19. However, IPPR said that new measures brought in to ensure social distancing since the pandemic, such as flexible shifts, split shifts at different times of day or working longer hours over fewer shifts, have been popular with many workers.

Among the recommendations made to capture the potential of more flexible working practices following the pandemic, IPPR suggested businesses set up ‘reduced working time taskforces’ to gauge whether reductions in working time or reduced working weeks were possible and desirable long-term.

Rachel Statham, Senior Research Fellow at IPPR and co-author of the report, said:

The way people work was already changing before COVID-19, but the past few months have shown how far and how fast innovation is possible – fewer hours, more flexible shifts, more flexibility all round. And it’s not just people in professional and white-collar jobs working from home; factories and engineering companies across the UK have also been operating differently, in ways that suit their workforce and have been designed with them.

“Even as we continue to support the economy to recover from the pandemic crisis, we need to capture those improvements and learn how to be more responsive to the changing needs of the UK’s workforce, including in manufacturing industries, for the long term.”

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