Board member Bill Goodwin at the BITA AGM.
Members of the British Industrial Truck Association (BITA) are optimistic about general prospects for the UK forklift market over the next 12 months and many expect company sales to rise by over 10%.
The evidence supporting the optimism was the result of an Oxford Economics survey unveiled at the BITA AGM this month.
Oxford Economics head of industry services Keith Edmonds says economic activity in the UK is "gradually recovering but what's fascinating is how the major drivers of UK growth are shifting in the upswing from household spending and government activity towards investment spending, exports and manufacturing activities in general."
"This is a marked contrast from the traditional leadership role played by services," Edmonds says.
BITA members' opinions echo the improving economic environment and the leading role for investment and manufacturing identified in the latest economic forecast document, The 2011 UK Forklift Truck Market Outlook, which is available exclusively to BITA members.
Edmonds says while GDP increased by 1.3% in 2010, manufacturing ended the year with a 3.6% jump. During the year, service sector activity increased by 1.1% overall but within that, wholesale and retail distribution services (a key sector for forklifts) increased by 2.8%.
"This pattern of sectors important for forklift demand outperforming the economy as a whole is set to continue in 2011."
BITA president Tim Waples says the "balance has tipped in favour of the UK forklift market". Orders rose by 23.9% in 2010 and this year's first quarter is 27.7% higher, year on year.
"2011 could yet beat previous expectations as stronger manufacturing output stimulates investment spending, generating orders for the forklifts that will be required to move merchandise," Waples says.
BITA also launched an industry recruitment initiative at its AGM. The association has committed to fund an industry apprentice manager to work with colleges and other trade associations to attract applicants to apprenticeship schemes.
The average age of engineers in the UK materials handling equipment sector is over 50 and increasing, based on a survey BITA carried out.
"Action must be taken now in order to prevent the age profile increasing to the point where there are too few experienced engineers left to train new apprentices," Waples says.
BITA Board member and Jungheinrich UK sales director Bill Goodwin is heading BITA's industry recruitment initiative, the Materials Handling Equipment (MHE) Apprenticeship Scheme.
"Excellent resources are already available in the form of training courses for MHE apprenticeships, for example those offered by North Warwickshire & Hinckley College - including the FLTA's new Vehicle Maintenance & Repairs (Lift Trucks) course which recently received accreditation - and City of Bristol College; plus other colleges offering engineering courses," Goodwin says.
However, he explains that the principal issue is take-up rates. "We need to see significant numbers of apprentices joining our sector to replace retiring employees if we want to reverse our current ageing profile.
"We believe that BITA can help by creating a management link, which does not currently exist, between the large companies and colleges to ensure that they are well enough informed and properly resourced to offer the most appropriate courses."
The industry apprentice manager will serve as a single point of quality management and contact with schools, colleges, applicants, operating companies and government funding agencies to ensure swift development and successful running of the scheme.
A crucial aspect of the role will be liaison across the industry, including collaboration with other trade associations and maintaining a public presence via web pages and exhibition attendance.