Manufacturing & Engineering seminar exposes similar issues shared by technology sector

18 October 2017

While I am a keen supporting member of our manufacturing sector team my primary focus is leading the Technology sector but our recent ‘Future Manufacturing & Engineering Breakfast Forum’ resulted in a passionate debate emphasising, perhaps not surprisingly, that the two sectors are inextricably linked by not least the primary issues they are facing.

My partner, Kate Arnott, kicked off the session running us through the results of our national annual survey to set the scene and highlighting the common issues such as;

  • Innovation and investment in R&D (and claiming reliefs!)
  • Staff skills 
  • Automation
  • Addressing foreign markets to de-risk the potential issues with Europe post-Brexit

Professor Roy Raj developed the discussion further with his ideas and views emanating from his research and wider knowledge of the sector. He opened up our thoughts with an impassioned view on what British manufacturing should look like in the future and indeed an optimistic view of our starting point based on our current skills and infrastructure. This was followed by lively discussion from the audience covering many larger issues including;

  • How does manufacturing sector present itself – the media and traditional image is of dirty factories and men welding whereas the reality is there is also hi-tech manufacturing which is clean, highly automated and full of the latest technology – is this a barrier to encouraging young talented people to join the sector?;
  • Professor RR did however make the counterpoint that the traditional skill such as specialist welding were equally important as the innovation and technology developments; indeed often the hardest part of manufacturing related to those ‘old fashioned’ skills;
  • Is the way manufacturing is presented in schools right? Are the opportunities identified and are the right skills taught early enough.  Is there enough done to address the gender imbalance?;
  • Is the whole business model changing anyway? Professor RR talked about Mobility as a service – will expensive assets be sold on a usage basis to customers rather than an out and out purchase (echoes of Technology’s software as a service);
  • Keeping the knowledge and skill base in the UK is key – even if the large customers may not be based here we should fight to keep the IP here and not let it either be given away to overseas customers or leaked away by using overseas suppliers who will learn from our designs;
  • For the SME’s in particular – is there some innovative way to create the resources to effect these changes? They will never have the resources available individually but could they come together to pool resources or look to the end customers ‘with deep pockets’ to fund their supply chain and protect and improve it at the same time for their own benefit.

The main take-away for me was the passion in the room from our audience for their sector and interestingly not just a plea to Government to sort out all the problems but an open-minded discussion about what we could all do to affect change. I look forward to the next meeting of minds....

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