LAST WORD: Growth SIGnal

Don’t say it too loudly, but it looks like government is learning how to deliver effective industry support.

Jane Gray, Editor, The Manufacturer magazine

Admittedly the new, exemplary programme, which has caught my eye is for the already heavily invested aerospace sector and it wouldn’t surprising to hear representatives from other sectors which have received less government courting say “all very well, but what about us?”

However, this recently launched initiative does have the shining virtues of being well coordinated, long term and relevant to SMEs according to one of its early beneficiaries.

This is a positive sign of government maturity in partnering with industry to deliver effective support for growth.

Sharing in Growth (SIG) was launched last year to help high potential suppliers in the aerospace supply chain make the leap from SME to mid cap level by preparing their management and priming succession with appropriate skills and structure.

Andrew Churchill, MD of Nuneaton-based precision engineering firm JJ Churchill told me last month that he felt the scheme was “exciting and disruptive”.

Controversially, SIG makes no bones about picking winners – though government representatives behind the scheme would shrink from using that terminology explicitly – “seeking gazelles” is apparently the new parlance.

The scheme is hunting for 30-40 gazelles of around £10m to £20m turnover with the intention of investing just over £1m in each over four years.

The funding will deliver top to bottom training and development for staff and the SMEs in question must match the value of this funding with value in time.

This means everyone from the MD to the newest apprentice at a beneficiary firm can reap rewards.

To make sure money, and time, is well spent, beneficiary firms go through an intensive diagnostic course to identify current skills strengths and weaknesses alongside company strategy before training is selected and delivered.

The key is to draw out, not what companies are good and bad at today, but what they will need to get good at in order to grow into a new company size bracket.

So far, after eight months of searching, around 20 firms have been selected to join SIG and TM intends to track the impact of funding on business and individuals at different levels in some of those organisations.

“It’s not compulsory for everyone. But SIG offers every employee the chance to codify their experience and learning to date and set them on a professional development journey – and it’s all funded,” enthused Churchill.

Using time to match funding for this scheme is a neat innovation for an SME development model, but where exactly is the money involved coming from? Rolls-Royce, which pushed hard for almost two years to see SIG come to fruition, has provided a significant chunk of the pot while government, via the Regional Growth Fund, is providing the rest.

It’s probably important to note here that while Rolls-Royce has coordinated SIG, it is not necessary to be a Rolls supplier in order to qualify for funding.

It will be interesting to track the trajectory of firms that get involved with SIG – will we see a new generation of mid cap British aero manufacturers in four years’ time?

If so, it will become crucial to develop a question which is already being asked in some circles: Can this model be replicated for other sectors?

Government can’t afford intensive intervention in the growth of every firm in the UK – and nor should it have to. But is there a way of expanding perhaps a lightweight version of this approach to ‘Mittlestand-making’ in other sectors?

Finding an OEM champion in each would be a first step.