When people over 45 years old think about industry they tend to think of smokestacks and coal mines, noise and grime. But those under 30—and particularly those under 24—tend to summon up images of computers, success, money and technology.
The mass word-association survey was commissioned to test perceptions of industry at a time when it is frequently assumed that Britain has become a “post-industrial” nation. The study asked people for their mental pictures of industry and found that attitudes to industry may be in transition, with young and old coming up with markedly different images.
The top word associations among people aged under 24 for “industry” were: money, busyness, booming, computers, success and technology. The top word associations among people over 45 were factory, decline, dirt, strike, China, and masculinity/maleness.
Asked whether they thought British industry was doing better or worse than 30 years ago, a total of 54 percent said it was doing worse, 33 percent better and 10 percent about the same (the remainder said they didn’t know). But among younger people, the perception is again considerably more positive. Among the16-24 age group, 79.3 percent say they believe that British industry is doing better than 30 years ago.
A total of 42 per cent think that jobs in industry are either very or quite high quality, compared with 25 percent who rated them either very or quite poor quality. Among 16-24 year olds, 67.2 percent say they think the quality of jobs in industry is very good.
There are also marked regional differences. People in Wales were more likely to associate ‘coal mines’ with industry than in other regions. Londoners were more likely to think of ‘money’.
The survey was commissioned by AMEC, The Sunday Times and The Work Foundation, who together are organizing the Best of British Industry Awards, a new initiative to celebrate leadership by U.K. industrial companies.
“The meaning of the word ‘industry’ is changing faster than most of us imagined,” says Will Hutton, chief executive of The Work Foundation. “Let’s face it, industry has long had an image problem. But what is striking from these results is that the attitudes of older people towards industry—all those mental pictures of production lines and strikes—mean absolutely nothing to younger people who did not live through the 1970s and early 80s. They see industry in markedly more positive terms. For them it’s about IT, not factories, which is probably much closer to the truth, too.”