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Plastics focus on skills and quality

Last week, I reflected on the textiles sector celebrating its 100th anniversary; on Wednesday it was the turn of the plastics sector to mark an important milestone in its history and look ahead: an 80th birthday. While clothing recyclers are in sombre mood, the latest survey of members of the British Plastics Federation (BPF) – many of whom are embedded in manufacturing – indicated they were positive and confident over sales, profitability and investment. It’s a big industry: £18bn of sales turnover and employing 180,000 people.

In the splendid Atheneum Club in central London, the BPF unveiled a series of events across the next 12 months and the findings of the business conditions survey that is carried out every six months.

There were responses from 100 of its 450-odd members. Headlines included a healthy 55% expecting to increase turnover in 2013; 36% looking to increase profitability; one-third planning to increase staff.

But staffing – and their skills – continues to be a major headache in the sector, an issue MRW has highlighted in the past in other sectors. Two-thirds of respondents said technical managers were hard to recruit; one-third struggled to find apprentices. No wonder director-general Peter Davis repeated calls for the UK’s training system to be galvanized to meet skill shortages.

For the first time, the survey sought to find out from processors why they do not use recycled polymers more. The single biggest reason given was the reliability of the recyclate (37%) followed by clients not wanting it in their products (32%); cost and processing difficulties (both 15%). These findings are food for thought for those who try to get their material into these markets. It will be interesting to see if these numbers move if the questions are repeated.

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