Long term job creation and regional balance

Posted on 13 Jun 2011 by The Manufacturer

On Wednesday May 25, Cranfield University hosted its second National Manufacturing Debate drawing together academics and professionals from across a variety of different manufacturing sectors to discuss the most pressing challenges and greatest areas of potential for manufacturers in the UK

After a morning of presentations from some of the UK’s leading manufacturing cognoscenti, delegates at this important event seized the opportunity to put forward their own views and experiences on the climate for manufacturing in Britain. The motion, which acted as a springboard for the afternoon’s discussion, asked “Can the manufacturing sector create a significant number of long term jobs and a regional balance?” The debate was led by a panel of experts including: Professor Sir Mike Gregory, head of the Institute for Manufacturing, Cambridge University; Sir Alan Rudge CBE, chairman of the ERA Foundation; Philip Greenish CBE, chief executive of The Royal Academy of Engineering; Andreas Pelz, global chief of service engineering at Rolls-Royce and Dr Gareth Williams, vice president R&T business development and partnerships for Airbus.

This short article only scratches the surface of the issues discussed at the National Manufacturing Debate 2011. A full report of the debate will be published in July and will be circulated to TM subscribers. TM interviewed by video Business Minister Mark Prisk MP, head of manufacturing at Cranfield University Prof. Raj Roy and other panellists, see www.themanufacturer.com

On finance
Preliminary thoughts focused on the financial environment for manufacturers in the UK.

Debunking the myth that investment activity in British firms is slow due to reluctance to lend on the part of banks, a surprising two thirds of the audience voted to express that they had investment plans which would be funded through company revenues or those of parent organisations.

On further exploration it was discovered that most attending manufacturers were discouraged from approaching banks, regardless of their willingness to lend, due to the high cost of borrowing and the administrative hoops they would be required to jump through. In addition a feeling of mistrust among SME manufacturers of centralised banking administration was vocalised. There was a consensus that the days of localised knowledge in banks, where local managers were familiar with business owners, business performance and the importance of individual businesses to the local economy, needed to be restored.

Contributions from an audience profile ranging through manufacturing business owners to engineering students were lively and often impassioned. A perceived lack of esteem for the engineering profession and lack of understanding among the general public for the diverse opportunities available through a career in manufacturing, stirred up particularly strong emotions. It is a shame such testaments to the prospects for travel and the intellectual challenges inherent in manufacturing careers seem to be forever incubated in intra-community events such as this.

On skills
Bringing the afternoon’s discourse to a close the final topic of discussion focused on skills for manufacturing in the UK. Several potent points were made on this issue. Sir Alan Rudge responded to assertions that the UK’s global competitive position could be saved through the protection IP with the comment: “We cannot assume we are superior in inventiveness.” Given that China is far outstripping the UK in terms of patent filings and engineering graduates year on year Sir Alan’s words should be taken as discerning warning to manufacturers not to rest on their laurels.

In this context it was highlighted by one of Cranfield’s foreign PhD students, Mohammed Badawy that the UK is limiting its ability to harness all of the knowledge and expertise it turns out of its universities due to a regulatory and cultural environment that makes it difficult for foreign students to find work with British companies, particularly SMEs.