Bright young things

Posted on 6 May 2010 by The Manufacturer

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...are you taking a stand on the future of UK manufacturing? TM asks; if not, why not?

The future of manufacturing in the UK and the ability of national industry to compete in a world of violent technological disruption, social dynamism and competitive paradigm change is dependent on tomorrow’s workforce. On the young people of today.

At present this critical fact is being underestimated by the manufacturing community at large and although inspirational companies, such a Power Panels Electrical Systems, Gripple, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and more have taken the initiative to take a stand on engaging with young people, raising their awareness and enthusing them about the possibility of a career in the sector, there is still a gap to be breached in putting the right information into education and careers advice. The manufacturing community have a new role to fill as pro-active marketers of their own value.

There are common misconceptions about what it means to work in manufacturing and although these largely exist in the minds of the adult population they migrate easily from parent to child and will influence career choices if no intervention is made. The Manufacturing Institute’s (TMI) Make It in Manufacturing campaign is striving to make that intervention, and in the most engaging and innovative fashion. Making meaningful contact with schools in the north west they have made a real impact on the image of manufacturing with young people in the region. A key event in this campaign for the past two years has been the north west Enterprise Challenge and on April 28, 2010 TM attended the grand regional final of the latest iteration to see what the effect the competition had on the career ambitions of participants.

This year’s Enterprise Challenge involved 769 student from over 90 schools. Teams of eight from each institution were tasked with creating manufacturing micro-businesses for specific product design tasks – the final involved innovating a new dairy product along with marketing plan, budget and eco-friendly distribution strategy.

The participating teams (made up of children from 13-14 yrs) were required to attribute key business roles, such as finance and marketing directors, manufacturing managers and managing directorships to appropriate team members according to their interests and skills sets. Working together the children easily overcame the obstacles of silo working and lack of strategic alignment that so often beleaguer adults and created an overwhelming range of innovative products backed by consideration for raw materials, environmental regulation, cost restrictions and customer demand. This activity (and for many teams it was intense) culminated in a Dragons Den style presentation on the back of which a winning product was selected. This year’s successful manufacturing entrepreneurs were from Kirkbie Kendal School, Cumbria.

The key attribute to this event was that it made the reality of factory work, and job roles in manufacturing that reach beyond the factory confines, a recognisable reality to children who, research has shown, are in the very throes of making their career choices. During the course of the iterative local and regional rounds of the competition, prominent manufacturers from the area reached out to young people and made themselves available for interrogation on what they enjoyed about their work, what they did day-to-day and even what they earn. Key players in the most recent competition were Robert Wiseman Dairies, Jaguar Landrover, McBride, BAE Systems and Aircelle. TM interviewed two of the budding industrialists who had been converted to the manufacturing cause by taking part in the competition:

Lee McKenna (St Thomas More Catholic High School, Cheshire): “I’ve learnt a lot a few new things about what manufacturing involves – there can be a lot more pay in it than I thought for a start and apart from working on machines there’s a lot of technology involved as well as office roles. Also I learnt that I’m quite good at working with teams. I got a special mention for being the best managing director after the first round which is great.”

Courteney Leech (Haslingden High School, Lancashire): “It’s been really exciting, which is not what I expected when my teacher said we’d find out more about what happens in factories. I was a bit iffy about whether to come but my Mum said ‘what have you got to lose’. In the first round I was financial director but this time I’m managing director. I really enjoyed being financial director ‘cos I’ve always liked maths but it’s so much more real when you have to use it like this. After today I’d definitely give working for a manufacturing company a shot.”

To say the children attending the grand final had been surprised and intrigued by their would be a massive understatement. Feedback showed their perceptions alter from seeing manufacturing as a dead end, low paid, boring and dirty work environment to one of creativity, team work, technology and potential wealth.

At present the Make It Enterprise Challenge is limited to the boundaries of TMIs jurisdiction but there are plans to take this inspirational event nationwide. The aid that this could give to the broader industry challenge of changing public perceptions about the state of UK industry and the contribution that manufacturing has to make to GDP and a balanced economy is massive and TM would like to take this opportunity to give its full backing to the scheme.If you would like to make the Enterprise Challenge extend into schools in your area please contact Nicola Eagleton-Crowther, Make It campaign manager at [email protected] .