Direct from young people

An update on the Manufacturer Directors’ Conference 2013

The end of the first day of MDC 2013 was dominated by input from young people who shared their routes into industry, what it was about their current employers that attracted them and what they feel will retain their loyalty in years to come.

Much of what they said reiterated the standard messaging on the importance of offering continuous training opportunities to young people. David Firth, a craft apprentice at Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group said that the company’s strong heritage of commitment to apprenticeship training gave him the confidence to turn down a good place at Sheffield University. He needed to be able to use this strength of commitment to convince parents and peers that there was a future in what he was doing.

John Burton, manufacturing engineering manager at Jaguar Land Rover, joined the company as a graduate and spoke of the engagement and buy-in the company immediately gained from him by giving him real responsibility and a clear progression route.

Cat Brownlie, another graduate trainee and now project engineer at AkzoNobel, shared her excitement at exploring the opportunities for travel offered by a global firm but said a huge part of her decision to join the global paint company, rather than another industry leader, was it commitment to sustainability and ethical business.

All of these messages are often bandied about at industry conferences but they resonated with new potency yesterday coming as they did, straight from young people themselves. Somehow the importance of the career offering become more tangible and visceral when a 23 year old stand in front of you and says they joined their company on the ground of its promise to keep helping them learn.

Hopefully the presentations will have been a wake-up call to any delegates who do not today provide apprenticeship or graduate training schemes – or for those who do to formalise the career pathways behind such scheme and communicate them more actively to potential recruits.

The show-stopper end to yesterday’s conference came from George Edwards, a 17 year old Arkwright Scholar and inventor of the now patented Gas – Sense Solutions product which identifies how much gas is left in camping and cooking canisters.

Mr Edwards was not afraid to share a few home truths with his audience about the way that current outreach programmes can appear to young people.

He made a number of pertinent observations – but the one that really stuck with me was that industry leaders, support organisations and media should have a care about the way we publicise the skills gaps facing industry.

As statistics show, this challenge is immense and must be addressed if the UK is to have a sustainably competitive manufacturing base.

However, the impact of headline in the news about the shortfall of engineers and the desperation of employers trying to find skilled people – or create long term jobs for trainees – has a resoundingly negative impact on young people looking out for their career choices said Edwards.

It’s time we took a more nuanced, structured and carefully measure approach to communicating industry’s needs and – as Douglas Dawson of Caparo Group pointed out in the morning session of MDC day 1, this should be based on a will to inspire and excite young people.

“No one becomes an engineer because you tell them that the nation needs engineers,” said Edwards. “They become an engineer because they know they will earn a lot of money, get to travel, get job security and because they love it.”

There will be more coverage of MDC 2013 as day 2 of the conference progresses today and in the December/January issue of the magazine.

Follow comments from day 2 of the conference in real time on twitter via #TMDC2013