Driving sustainable manufacturing: Q&A with ‘Young Manufacturer of the Year’ Natasha Lyth

Posted on 14 Feb 2023 by The Manufacturer
Partner Content

At The Manufacturer MX Awards in November, Natasha Lyth, Sustainability Manager at Gripple, won the Young Manufacturer of the Year award. As a female in a sector which struggles to attract younger talent and is often perceived to be overwhelmingly male, Natasha is an excellent representation of the trends which are transforming manufacturing across the UK.

Following the awards, Ruth Hancock, Senior Operating Director at Michael Page Manufacturing, sat down with Natasha for a deep dive Q&A on the changing face of sustainable manufacturing and career paths in the industry.

To discuss your hiring needs or your next career move, get in touch with Michael Page today.

Ruth: What attracted you to manufacturing?

Natasha Lyth, Sustainability Manager at Gripple

Natasha: Mine wasn’t a typical journey by any means. I was an all-rounder at school but had no clear career path. That all changed after I left college and I got my first job as a production assistant at a bookmaker factory, mostly working on data entry and order processing. I loved seeing the end-to-end process and the results of my contributions. That, plus my manager’s passion for manufacturing operations, really piqued my interest.

On the advice of some of the lean management consultants who worked with the company, I resolved to go to university so I could pursue a career in manufacturing operations. After returning to college to study an AS Level in Law and Economics, I studied Business Management at De Montfort University.

From there, my interest only grew. A module focusing on policy and business legislation taught me a lot about our government’s approach to environmental priorities and the profitability incentives it uses. That opened my eyes to the fact that a responsible approach to the environment is best for businesses.

What happened after you graduated from university?

In my initial job search following graduation, I applied to a role at Gripple and was invited to their assessment centre. They asked us to deliver a presentation on a business we’d always wanted to run. I bucked the trend slightly and said that my true goal was to become a business consultant with a focus on environmental sustainability. They reacted well – I think they knew I understood the values they were looking for.

Right from the start, I felt that Gripple allowed me to be who I was. I have never felt that I need to put a ‘work cap’ on or pretend to be someone else. They have always accepted where I have weaknesses and provided excellent training.

What was the graduate scheme at Gripple like?

I was given specific projects, one of which was looking at how we train our operators and analysing our suppliers. I eventually did a long-term placement in our ideas and innovation department. There, I worked on improving the way that new products were implemented into the production side of the business. During that time, I introduced a new product into production, carried out the testing, and set up the production facility.

I was then invited to join the supply chain department, where my job varied from day-to-day ordering and sourcing parts for new products to setting up new suppliers, carrying out audits, and more. I eventually did my first Scope 3 analysis, off the back of which I developed a roadmap toward hitting our carbon emissions goals. And that’s how I landed in the sustainability manager role.

So, you entered sustainability through the supply chain work you were doing?

That’s right – and I was daunted by the task at the time, but Gripple have supported me and helped to me to upskill. It’s important that your employer trusts you and responds well when you need help. I have regular meetings with the Head of Supply Chain and our Managing Director to maintain strategic alignment, and I also work with a sustainability champion who helps manage the weekly reporting.

Sustainability has a huge scope: How do you decide on your targets and focus?

One key thing we’ve learned is not to get too caught up in the reporting side of the work. You’re almost always months behind in your reporting period, and if you spend all your time churning through data, nothing else will get done. That’s why we decided to use an external partner to manage the data calculations and come back to us with queries. This approach allows me to direct my focus toward other key areas, and I believe it will equip the business for the future.

I also try to make the best possible use of the specialists we have in each department. I go to them with my ideas and ask them their views. They’ll normally come back with all the challenges which have stopped them from dealing with the issues at hand. This gives me a tick list to work through.

My job is seeing the problem, proposing a solution, letting the team express the potential challenges, then working through it together. It’s about change management and helping people see why new approaches can be positive.

How do you define parameters and success when it comes to sustainability?

When we defined our journey toward climate positive, defining our terms was a key part of the process, as doing so would enable transparency and accountability.

For instance, we had a lot of debate internally around whether we should be talking about ‘net zero’ or ‘climate positive’, as my job isn’t just carbon management: we want to be positively impacting our communities. It’s about people, products, process, and ultimately delivering value in those three interlinked areas.

What’s the most rewarding thing about your current role?

Knowing that I’m steering the business in the right direction. I’m helping Gripple become the next version of itself.

I wanted to work with operations because I would be able to see the impact I was having, and that’s exactly what I’m able to do in my role now. For instance, if I can find a way for a team to use less energy over the weekend, then I can look and see energy usage way down on the Monday. I’m enabling people to see things they didn’t know they could do.

How are you feeling after winning ‘Young Manufacturer of the Year’?

I’m still in shock to be honest! I was up against people in engineering and transformation roles and I’m not from a STEM background. I knew I was passionate about manufacturing, but I wondered if that was enough.

It’s amazing and it’s a credit to the MX Awards that they nominate people in roles like mine as well as people in more traditional manufacturing roles. It’s a key driver in introducing more people to manufacturing and changing ideas around what this industry is.

I hope that more young people and young women who don’t have that traditional route will see that manufacturing is open to them. And while I came in on a graduate scheme, the apprenticeships available today are amazing! The manufacturing industry wants to attract people and to keep them. The opportunities in this space are endless.

What next?

Michael Page Manufacturing is the recruitment partner of choice to industry-leading publication The Manufacturer and to numerous top companies across the space. Through talent expertise, Michael Page Manufacturing is leading the way toward a more digitalised, diverse, and sustainable sector.

Whether you are looking for an exciting new opportunity in manufacturing, or to add top talent to your team, Michael Page can help. Reach out today for an introductory conversation.