Is the decline of industry due to the growth of services?

By Sarah Guillou

On Friday, April 8 2016, the Observatoire Français des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE) began a series of quarterly seminars on the analysis of France’s productive network. The purpose is to bring together researchers and discussion of the situation, the diversity and the heterogeneity of the companies making up France’s production system. This discussion is now being fed by the increasing use of business data. We hope in this way to enrich the analysis of the strong and weak points in the country’s production fabric, with a view to guiding the development of public policies aimed at strengthening it.[1]

The first seminar took up the role of services in deindustrialization as measured by the decline of industrial employment as a share of total employment. Since 2000, the manufacturing industry in France has lost more than a quarter of its work force, i.e. more than 900,000 jobs. A recent note by the INSEE (Insee Première, No 1592) points out that manufacturing’s weight in the economy has been halved from 1970 to today. Even though deindustrialization has aroused greater attention in France than elsewhere, probably because of the country’s interventionist tradition and the challenges facing its labour market, it is taking place in all the developed economies. This raises questions about underlying structural trends common to all these countries.

However, the decline in industrial employment is being accompanied by net job creation in services. It also appears that the growth of services is being driven in part by changes in industrial production methods. Products are incorporating an increasingly large component of services, and companies are expanding their portfolio of service products. The fragmentation of production processes – fuelled by the opportunities provided by globalization – is isolating low value-added manufacturing units from high value-added services units.

These changes in production methods need to be analysed to understand the extent of this phenomenon. It seems that the changes occurring within industry are just as much factors driving the decline of industry as the rise of services in employment. In other words, there is a question of how much deindustrialization finds a mirror image in the growth of services, or even its explanation.

Three contributions helped to provide some answers to the following questions: which manufacturers are producing services and with what impact on their performance? What is the role of services in the development of global value chains? Are flows of international services replacing flows of goods? Three main lessons emerge.

1 – “Servitization” and the decline in manufacturing jobs are clearly correlated

Manufactured products are incorporating an increasingly significant amount of services. This can be seen both by the growing share of companies that produce services (Crozet and Millet, 2015) and export them (Castor et al., 2016) and by the rising content of services in exports (Miroudot, 2016)[2].

The growth in companies’ value-added “services” may well push all their jobs into the service sector, including what are strictly speaking manufacturing jobs, if the added value of the services becomes dominant. Today an average of 40% of manufacturing employment corresponds to service activities. Furthermore, the fragmentation of production processes is intensifying, as is the distribution around the world of outsourced activities based on the comparative advantages of different locations. If the company maintains an anchor in the home country, it usually keeps only the higher value-added jobs there, in line with the cost of the related work and qualifications, meaning jobs often characterized as services.

Note that these changes in production methods clearly reflect a decrease in manufacturing functions in a product’s added value, which translates into a decline of manufacturing in the sources of the wealth of nations. But it is important not to underestimate the impact of the fragmentation of production units. Thus, jobs in services, formerly attributed to manufacturing, are being reclassified as service jobs even though the underlying production task has not changed, and this is happening regardless of outsourcing abroad.

However, this reclassification is all the more likely as “servitization” accelerates and becomes a must for companies to remain competitive.

2 – The servitization of manufacturing is a competitive factor

Servitization, which is associated with qualitative improvements in products and more generally the creation of value in manufacturing, is a factor in competitiveness.

As is shown by Crozet and Millet (2015), the production of services by manufacturing enterprises is a factor that enhances their performance. There are actually many French manufacturing companies that produce services, with 70% producing these for third parties (2007 data). The decision to produce services represents an important turning point, and clearly boosts performance. The authors’ estimates thus show that taking this decision raises profitability, employment, total sales and sales of goods. Even though there are sectoral variations, the impact on performance is positive, whatever the industrial sector in question.

At the aggregate level, the share of imported services in the export of goods is also growing. In France’s exports, the share of services ranges from 30% to 50%, depending on the sector. The fragmentation of production processes is leading to outsourcing certain service functions and to the provision of imported services. This dynamic goes hand in hand with the integration of economies in international trade, with the benefit of globalization opportunities and ultimately with the competitiveness of economies (see De Backer and Miroudot, 2013).

3 – The direct and indirect export of services will continue to make a positive contribution to the trade balance

The developments described above directly affect the trade in services. It is indeed increasingly services that are the subject of trade in intermediate products, with the latter being estimated at nearly 80% of world trade. Digitalization, along with differentiation through services, is leading to the fragmentation of production with the inclusion of more and more services.

Trade in services in France has not experienced a decline since the crisis of 2007. Even though the trade balance in services has shrunk slightly since 2012, it has remained positive since the start of the 21st century, and the export of services has been rising faster than for goods. As the world’s third largest exporter of services – especially because of tourism – France will see service exports increase as a share of its trade balance. Admittedly, for the moment, the volume of exported services has not offset the negative balance for goods, but the development of intra-firm trade in services and of intermediary services will eventually reverse their respective shares.

Trade in services is even more concentrated than trade in goods. It is mainly carried out by French or foreign multinational corporations, which account for more than 90% of this trade. While just over half of trade takes place with the European Union (EU), this component is running a deficit, while non-EU trade is running a surplus. It is interesting to note that the balance is positive for companies that are part of a French group, but negative for companies belonging to a foreign group (Castor et al., 2016).

In conclusion

It seems that the dichotomy between industry and services is becoming increasingly inappropriate to describe the dynamics of employment and the productive specialization of economies. An approach in terms of productive functions that breaks down the job properly based on whether it involves manufacturing activities strictly speaking or other activities, such as transportation and logistics, administrative support or R&D services, would allow a better understanding of a country’s skills and comparative advantages.

More generally, the growth of services and their increasing role in production and exports is giving them an increasingly central role in economic growth. Getting better statistics on the production and export of services and improving the methods of assessing productivity in services are prerequisites for a better understanding of the role of services in growth and of the levers to be activated to achieve this.


[1] A scientific committee responsible for the organization of the OFCE seminar on the Analysis of the Production System is composed of V. Aussilloux (France Stratégie), C. Cahn (Banque de France), V. Charlet (La Fabrique de l’Industrie), M. Crozet (Univ. Paris I, CEPII), S. Guillou (OFCE), E. Kremp (INSEE), F. Magnien (DGE), F. Mayneris (Univ. Louvain), L. Nesta (OFCE), X. Ragot (OFCE), R. Sampognaro (OFCE), and V. Touzé (OFCE).

[2] Miroudot, S. (forthcoming), “Global Value Chains and Trade in Value-Added: An Initial Assessment of the Impact on Jobs and Productivity”, OECD Trade Policy Papers, no. 190, OECD Publishing.