MECSPE Observatory: Relaunching manufacturing with NRRP

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The MECSPE Observatory data for the third quarter of 2023 highlight the role of the NRRP in relaunching the sector and the companies’ desire for growth, despite the sector’s difficulties

The NRRP contributes to the growth and digital transition of manufacturing companies, which have taken advantage of 4.0 incentives to make important investments that would otherwise be difficult to realise. Without incentives, more than 60 per cent of entrepreneurs would have reduced or renounced investments.

The companies plan to grow in the coming years also thanks to the Transition 5.0 Plan, integrating the digital transition with the energy transition, demonstrating a real desire to include sustainability in the production processes of a sector, the manufacturing one, that with its 511 thousand active companies [1] is still the backbone of the Italian economy.

This, in short, is what emerged during the inaugural conference of the 22nd edition of the MECSPE fair in Bologna, where the data of the MECSPE Observatory on industry for the third quarter of 2023 with forecasts for 2024 [1] were presented, highlighting the role of the PNRR and incentives for the development of the sector.

The MECSPE Observatory showed that, although down from the same period last year, the majority of entrepreneurs in the sector (8 out of 10) reached a medium/high level of satisfaction with the current performance of their company.

Transition Plan 5.0

Turnover is holding up in the short term, remaining stable or growing for 63%, while, for almost two thirds of the companies, the order book is adequate. The sector, therefore, has no intention of slowing down; indeed, not a few companies are planning a growth path over the next two years (60%).

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Thanks to the NRP, industry is gaining access to significant government resources. More than 50 per cent of entrepreneurs, in fact, applied for Industry 4.0 incentives to support their growth in order to invest in digital transformation (31%), R&D (14%), training (26%) and sustainability (14%), making investments that they would otherwise not have been able to make: 63% of entrepreneurs, in fact, would not have invested – or would have done so to a lesser extent – without the incentives.

Thanks to these investments, entrepreneurs were able to see an improvement in the productivity of their company (44%), technological equipment (35%) and, more generally, an improvement in working conditions (25%).

The positive impact of the 4.0 incentives paves the way for the 5.0 Transition Plan: one third of entrepreneurs are willing to take advantage of the new measure: today, more than 80 per cent of companies are also ready to innovate in terms of energy transition.

ESG and sustainability

Innovation towards Industry 5.0 also passes through sustainability and ESG criteria. As far as corporate sustainability is concerned, the number of companies describing themselves as fairly or very sustainable has increased, to 44% (vs. 37% last quarter).

The number of those measuring their CO2 footprint is also on the rise (at 23% vs. 20% last quarter), which is promising, and representative of the progress being made.

New challenges for the supply chain

The sector is also facing some critical issues related to the international geopolitical context: 44% of entrepreneurs say they are concerned about the consequences of recent international conflicts.

A situation of uncertainty that could have a strong impact on the Italian entrepreneurial fabric, not only for the supply of raw materials, but also for exports; in fact, 71% of the companies surveyed export. Inflation, energy costs and interest rates, on the other hand, are perceived with much less concern than in the previous quarter.

Digital growth and AI

Where does Italian manufacturing stand when it comes to digitisation? Almost 7 out of 10 entrepreneurs state that their company has experienced medium to high digital growth in recent years.

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Among the technologies introduced in 2023 alone, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the internet of things excel; leapfrogging in 2024, on the other hand, is artificial intelligence, the introduction of which is planned by 13% of entrepreneurs, followed by further investments in cybersecurity and collaborative robotics.

Still on the subject of AI, the majority of entrepreneurs continue to have positive opinions about it, with more than 6 out of 10 believing it will bring benefits. In this regard, 25 per cent have already introduced it or intend to introduce it in their company, while 38 per cent are in the process of doing so.

Looking for qualified human resources

The manufacturing industry is looking for qualified human resources: the shortage of talent is one of the issues that has challenged the sector the most in recent times.

In fact, according to the MECSPE Observatory, in 2023 more than a half of the companies surveyed were significantly impacted by the difficulty in recruiting human resources (51%).

This figure is in line with recent Unioncamere reports, which show that in February 2024 127,270 specialized workers were being sought, but as many as 60% of these could not be found [3].

ITS at the service of companies

To overcome the shortage of qualified personnel, more and more companies have turned to cooperating with universities and ITS institutes, which deliver highly specialized training courses for technical fields and provide an alternative higher education to the university route, aimed at immediate entry into the world of work.

The employment data show that, 12 months after graduation, 86.5 per cent of the ITS graduates found a job [4], confirming the great value represented by these institutes in terms of the workforce. In general, it is fundamental for companies to collaborate with training institutes and universities to intercept new resources and young talents to support company growth and the new skills required by the market.

For this reason, almost 6 out of 10 companies in the MECSPE survey sample already collaborate with ITS and/or universities and almost 3 out of 10 companies are planning to do so.

Internal training incentives

On the other hand, with regard to the skills of internal staff, according to the Observatory, only 47% of the surveyed companies claim to have resources with adequate skills for their objectives.

Therefore, many of them have already taken steps to introduce in-house training courses (57%), while 13% intend to introduce them soon.

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In fact, among the most popular government incentives in 2023 is the Training 4.0 Tax Credit, which more than a quarter of the sample would like to take advantage of.

For 25 per cent of the companies, one of the main benefits of the investments was the ability to take advantage of more qualified personnel, demonstrating the positive impact of the incentives on training.

There is a growing need for new skills in companies, as many entrepreneurs in 2024 will introduce innovative technologies, primarily artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity and collaborative robotics; therefore, training resources becomes a priority.

[1] Movimprese data Q4 2023.

[2] MECSPE Observatory on the manufacturing industry, made by GRS Research and Strategy on a sample of 731 Italian manufacturing companies.

[3] Unioncamere-ANPAL, Excelsior Information System.

[4] INDIRE, Monitoring ITS Academy 2023.