Why manufacturing sector must reinvent itself in wake of Covid

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The reality of this new normal is therefore a wake-up call to the manufacturing  sector to rise to the occasion.

It is six months into the global economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Governments are slowly reopening their economies and re-examining ways and means of riding out of this rough storm to alleviate job losses, loss of income and supply chain disruptions that are causing unusual “twin supply-demand shock”.

The World Bank predicts the African economy will fall into recession while Kenya’s economy may drop to 1.5 percent but rebound to 5.2 percent in 2021. Some of the sectors that have been hit hard by the pandemic are; manufacturing, tourism, aviation, exports and agriculture.

The manufacturing sector is at the centre stage of our industrialisation efforts and remains a legacy project in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda. The sector has been instrumental in creation of jobs, increasing foreign direct investment, promotion of exports and improving the ease of doing business.

The sector’s performance in 2019 was not as rosy as projected. The Economic Survey 2020 indicates that the sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at 7.6 percent and its real value added grew by 3.2 percent in 2019 compared to 4.3 percent in 2018.

The reality of this new normal is therefore a wake-up call to the sector to rise to the occasion. To do so, the sector must quickly identify the existing “skills gap”. Covid-19 has opened the economy to a reality check in so far as relevant skills set are concerned.

While the rate of unemployment remains high, majority of the unemployed lack specialized skills for a modern manufacturing job.

Even though the technical and vocational education colleges have played a significant role in churning out skilled labour, there is need to set up a sector-specific manufacturing institute akin to the US and UK’s manufacturing institutes with skills certification system meant to address the existing skills gap to build a manufacturing talent pipeline.

The sector needs to create a business continuity Emergency Response Fund equivalent to atleast half the amount advanced to manufacturers by lenders in the previous financial year.

Last year, the sector received credit worth Sh66.9 billion from commercial banks. A Response Fund of Kshs 184 billion would be an ideal war chest. Companies are struggling with cash flows making it difficult to meet their immediate financial obligations.

This fund will assist in reducing the cost of doing business associated with expensive credit facilities, reduce the cost of new investments and create more jobs. Innovation is another focus area and remains the lifeblood of the sector for the foreseeable future. There is need to adopt new technologies, materials, products and processes to drive the sector to a double digit growth rate.

Covid-19 has taught us that overreliance on foreign-sourced raw materials is no longer sustainable and so homegrown solutions must be considered. The sector also needs to expand its domestic supply chain capacity.

Key lesson learnt is that during economic crises, countries are likely to pay less attention to foreign supply orders in favour of domestic demand. The lack of personal protective equipments (PPEs) during the early stages of the pandemic attests to the old adage that economies only export a surplus.

  • Source: Business Daily

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