A manufacturing strategy needs Insight

Posted on 23 Nov 2009 by The Manufacturer

Business minister Ian Lucas on Manufacturing Insight and the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry

The UK makes things. We are home to the sixth largest manufacturing industry in the world — pretty strong evidence that we are still a country that makes things. Manufacturing will remain as vital to our economy in the future as it is today.

And while this government still has a significant role to play in helping companies through the recession, we must ensure our industry is prepared for the new opportunities and challenges the upturn will bring.

Globalisation coupled with on-going advancements within the industry has changed our position in the supply chain. We make fewer products from start to finish and many of our manufacturers have become specialists in manufacturing key components and parts.

The growth of new sectors such as plastic electronics and biotechnology, have taken the place of traditional heavy industry. And over the next decade as low carbon changes the way we work, the way we heat our homes and the way we travel, we need to make sure our manufacturers are in a position to take advantage of the economic opportunities that brings.

The Manufacturing Strategy, launched last year, laid down the actions we are taking to achieve that. And along with the Advanced Manufacturing Strategy launched in July, it looks at how we can build on our strengths in advanced manufacturing and low carbon technologies.

We are twelve months on and I am pleased to say we have made significant progress. We have established the Offices for Nuclear Development and Renewable Energy Deployment – something that would not have happened without significant public sector funding. We have launched the low carbon strategy and provided funding for a competition that will see 340 low carbon vehicles trialled on UK roads in the next twelve months. These are all developments that will help manufacturers move forward.

Manufacturing Insight

But despite these achievements there is still a lot more to be done. One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is recruiting new talent. Many graduates and school leavers do not view the manufacturing sector as an exciting place to work – to say it comes low on their list of career choices would be putting it lightly.

It does not matter how many engineering, science and technology-based degrees we make available or how many apprenticeships are out there, unless we have a regular stream of new talent putting those skills into practice within the industry. That is where Manufacturing Insight comes in. The body, which officially launched yesterday, will be tasked with changing the perception of manufacturing among youngsters, focussing on the positives and the career prospects the sector offers.

We need to create more opportunities to see exciting manufacturing projects in action, like the Bloodhound land speed record project, which has seen university students work alongside some of the world’s leading engineers, mechanics and manufacturers to build a super car. Local school children have also been invited along to the facility to see its progress. The aim is to inspire youngsters, to show off some of the skills our experts have to offer and to open up new career paths for graduates.

Using the media, feeding into the school curriculum and developing relationships with youth organisations, Manufacturing Insight will reach out to youngsters. It will receive £50,000 a year for the next two years from government towards start-up costs, with additional funding to come from the wider business community.

We have now also — in partnership with Advantage West Midlands and the East Midlands Development Agency — put in place £40 million to build the Manufacturing Technology Centre, a world-class research, development and demonstration facility, based in Coventry. Hosting seminars and open days, it will offer SMEs and universities the chance to participate in projects.

Initial projects will involve Rolls-Royce, Aero Engine Controls and Airbus UK and discussions are well underway with a number of other companies including Jaguar Land Rover and Bombardier.

The manufacturing sector has and will continue to change, but if we can make people aware of the opportunities that exist and ensure the right skills are in place to fill those opportunities, then I am in no doubt UK manufacturers have a bright future ahead.

Ian Lucas, business minister, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills

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