Getting to grips with the Young Manufacturer of the Year

Posted on 31 Mar 2023 by Lanna Deamer

Gripple's Sustainability Manager, Tasha Lyth, is the reigning TMMX Awards Young Manufacturer of the Year.

The Manufacturer‘s Lanna Deamer caught up with Tasha to discuss her career so far and how she transitioned from an early foray in a digital printing factory to being Gripple’s first ever sustainability manager.

Tell us about your background and current role?

My first practical experience in a manufacturing environment was when I worked for a digital printing factory as an apprentice straight out of secondary school. This was something I really enjoyed because although it was an office-based role, I could still be involved on the factory floor and correlate the computerised order with the finished, physical product. My manager was really interested in lean manufacturing and making the factory as optimised as possible to improve our practices. This is what first piqued my interest in taking my manufacturing career further.

I made the decision to go back to college, take my A-Levels and then went onto university to study business and management with a focus on operational and practical modules; my end goal was to graduate with a job in a manufacturing company. Having interviewed at two companies, and receiving two offers, I accepted the role at Gripple which was partly influenced by the organisation’s culture. It really stood out to me and felt very aligned with what I wanted out of a role. Gripple really embraces individuals bringing their authentic selves to work so it felt like the perfect fit.

I joined on the graduate scheme, which is a tailored programme that Gripple do really well. I couldn’t recommend it more because if an individual doesn’t quite know what they want to do, they are able to experience everything by having a trial in every department. My first rotation was working in production across all our sites, which gave me valuable insight into our production methods and a solid understanding of the product range.

I then undertook rotations within operations management, marketing and I&I (Ideas & Innovation). During this time, my original link with production was maintained through regular meetings with the operations manager. While working in I&I, I was tasked with being a project coordinator, which enabled me to form cross departmental links with both I&I and production. Key to the launch of new products, it also meant I was directly involved in senior meetings.

A programme highlight for me were the six weeks I spent in Costa Rica as a volunteer for Raleigh International. The fundraising we were all challenged to participate in as part of the graduate scheme, developed crucial skills needed for a successful career such as teamwork, decision making and networking.

Once I finished the graduate scheme, I became Gripple’s supply chain analyst, a crucial part of manufacturing that often gets forgotten. The sector can often be viewed as very hands on with practical projects, but there’s also a lot going on in the background.

One of my main projects was mapping our supply chain, looking to see where we could gain efficiencies and highlighting any risks. During this process, I began to understand more about our Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Alongside the supply chain project, the focus on sustainability snowballed into a fully comprehensive analysis of our emissions, looking at our trajectory, what could we achieve and setting our climate-based targets. This project organically led into my current role of sustainability manager, a new and incredibly broad position.

What did it mean to you to win Young Manufacturer of the Year 2022?

It was an extremely humbling experience – if you ask anyone that knows me they’ll say that I can often be too negative about myself – I don’t lack confidence per se, but often others hold my work in a higher regard than I do.

Finding out that Gripple had nominated me was a surprise, although it was lovely to get the recognition, I didn’t think much would come from it until I found out I was shortlisted; I assumed an engineer or someone creating something really cool would win. As part of the shortlisting process, there was a question relating to what I’d manufactured, and it felt cheesy and slightly clichéd to say that I’d manufactured change. It took me a while to realise that my role is just as important as the people doing the practical manufacturing. It was truly amazing to be acknowledged at that level by some fantastic people in the industry.

I am so thrilled to win this award and my hope is that this will inspire other people who might be able to relate to my internal negativity. I also hope it shows others that no matter what role you have in a manufacturing business and regardless of whether you are from a STEM background, you can make a difference.

What advice would you give to someone entering The Manufacturer MX Awards?

First of all, if you have a similar mindset around self-doubt, then just remember that your company has nominated you and acknowledged your work. Take the time to reflect on what you’ve achieved because being shortlisted is an achievement, even if you don’t end up winning.

I really enjoyed the whole shortlisting process and found that reflecting on my career to date was a great confidence boost. Life is so busy that often people don’t have the time to step back and reflect but it’s so important. As a company, we also entered the Sustainable Manufacturing award, among others, and although we didn’t win that category, I really enjoyed putting together the presentation as it was another chance to reflect on the company’s wider achievements.

The Manufacturer MX Awards 2022

How can we get more young people into manufacturing?

While it’s important to get more STEM students into the sector, it’s also vital that we highlight what others can do to support manufacturing and make it clear that you don’t have to be technically minded or an engineer to work in manufacturing.

Manufacturing has many facets and is more nuanced than perhaps people give it credit for. The sector involves machines and engineering, of course, but data and analytics still have their place and therefore, it’s incredibly important that the sector highlights all opportunities in manufacturing, not just the technical roles.

Young people’s career options can sometimes be limited by the choices they made at school, as often the full picture of the opportunities available to them is unclear. Gripple is unlike any business I’ve come across because they’ve fully supported me on my journey through training and development and trusted me with what has essentially been a new function within the business.

What could be done to attract more women into the sector?

Tasha in Costa Rica as a volunteer of Raleigh International

Quite often when attending industry events there will quite clearly be a lack of females in the room. However, I am positive that the sector is making progress. I’m fortunate that there’s so many women in amazing roles at Gripple, I look up to them and they’ve all played a part in my development, whether they’ve helped me day-to-day or been there for me as a mentor.

Undeniably, we want to attract more women and young people into the sector in general, however, if there’s a job vacancy, the right person should get the job whatever their gender. If you set arbitrary targets around recruitment, it could devalue people in certain senior roles if it is assumed that they are there only to fulfil a diversity metric. Manufacturing will attract more people by being a secure and exciting place to work (which it is) but we must get that message out there.

How integral is sustainability to Gripple’s overall business strategy?

Gripple is looking at sustainability from a holistic viewpoint so it’s becoming increasingly more integral. It’s not just about reaching net zero and carbon emissions targets, it’s also about the sustainability of our workforce; have we got skilled people in the right jobs, and do we have succession plans in place for people retiring, etc? We’ve also got to look at the sustainability of our products; how do they impact the environment, and are the materials we’re using being sourced sustainably?

Sustainability is integral and has become less of a business buzzword. It is a topic that is being considered more from the perspective of individual job functions and that is the transition that businesses need to make to see sustainability as a combined effort of everyone in the business; understanding what the sustainability goals are and how the workforce can influence them.

Tell us about Gripple’s commitment to become climate positive?

We were trying to come up with a new climate phrase and our MD thought that ‘carbon negative’ sounded too downbeat. We realised that our approach to sustainability isn’t just about net zero, and the numbers we need to hit to get there. We want to contribute to our environment in a responsible way and that’s why we coined the phrase ‘climate positive’ because Gripple want to add more value to our environment, customers and employees.

We’ve also got key emissions-based targets around carbon neutrality and net zero, but within that we’ve also set product improvement goals to look at alternative materials, lower carbon and more alternatives where possible. We’re also looking at the next level of automation among our machines and how we can make that process more efficient. Plus, we are analysing the value that our products give, compared to traditional methods. For example, Gripple’s suspension features 95% less embodied carbon due to the material savings. Therefore, the more people we can convert to using our products, the less carbon intensive those buildings will be.

Every element of sustainability needs to come together to deliver that positive end goal. My hopes are that Gripple will be a climate positive business way in advance of our target, as the metrics are not purely based on emissions, but rather, all the other value we’re adding.

Sustainability cannot be achieved in isolation, so how important are partnerships and collaboration along the journey?

I can’t overstate the influence that some of our peers have had on our journey and even my own learning. We’ve had a couple of local businesses do some fantastic work in the sustainability space who have been willing to collaborate and help other people learn. They really helped us at the start of our journey when we were still trying to understand Scope 3 emissions.

Meeting like-minded peers on to exchange best practices has been so impactful, I would emphasise the power of attending events to meet like-minded people in similar roles. It’s also important to be able to sound check and get feedback, because not everyone will have the exact same method or route. However, as long as we’re all trying to achieve that end goal, then we can all celebrate that. That’s the beauty of this space, you never stop learning and there’s always opportunities to learn from each other. We are going to visit Encirc, the winners of the Sustainable Manufacturing award soon and it will be amazing to see how they do things differently.

What top tips would you give to manufacturers who are just starting out on their sustainability journey?

Take a moment to examine why your company wants to be more sustainable; make sure it is authentic to you and decide the main driver behind your sustainability targets. Ours is due to the fact that Gripple is an employee-owned business so we ultimately want everyone that works here to be at the business for as long as they can.

From a data perspective, don’t wait until its perfect. One of the takeaways I took from a recent webinar was that you probably already know what improvements could be made within your business without doing months of data and analytics.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to people or businesses that you admire; take the time to join webinars and events and from there you could even set up a working group with key individuals from all the departments in the business to discuss ideas.

What do you think the future of sustainability looks like?

The future of sustainability is just the future. It’s a practice that should be automatic and embedded into everything we do, rather than a standalone activity or an additional thought. Therefore, the future of sustainable manufacturing will just be manufacturing.

Are you interested in entering industry’s gold standard awards programme? Entries are now open: find out more here.