Made in the Midlands chairman talks to TM

David Wright, chairman of Made in the Midlands, talks to James Pozzi about the record breaking success of its annual expo and its plans going forward.

David Wright, Made in the Midlands
David Wright, chairman, Made in the Midlands.

The recent MIM event saw over 1000 delegates and 100 regional manufacturers in attendance. Are such healthy figures an illustration of a regional upturn in manufacturing?

This was our 5th annual Made in the Midlands expo and it was our biggest and best to date. It’s grown exponentially during this period and it’s no coincidence that it’s reflected what’s happening economically, mirroring the PMI data. Manufacturing in this region is driving the national growth figures and our members are gaining the confidence to showcase their successes and demonstrate the real stories behind the headline figures.

The Midlands is renowned for its strong automotive heritage. Which other industries were particularly well represented at the event?

Most of our members have the luxury of operating in a number of well performing sectors with broad customer bases, so we targeted and saw strong aerospace, medical and nuclear industry representation at the event. Aerospace is particularly exciting for the Midlands with its projected market share to increase by hundreds of millions of pounds over the next decade, reflected by the global commitment to orders for new civil and military aircraft, the majority of components for which are manufactured within a 40 mile radius of Wolverhampton.

Is the optimism surrounding manufacturing at the moment generally shared by MIM members, or are some still apprehensive about talk of a recovery?

We ran a futures report at the end of last year, asking our members how they see industry performing over the next three to five years. They conveyed a real sense of optimism aligned to the good year we had in 2013 and this has continued into this year. We were delighted that we had the opportunity to discuss our report with George Osborne in a private meeting with our friends at Cube Precision. There has been some unwarranted derision about his ‘march of the makers’ budget a couple of years ago but you can’t argue with the subsequent 15 months of consecutive growth.

This year saw the first time the expo was open to schools and colleges. Were you encouraged by the response from educational institutions towards the event?

Absolutely, we had excellent support from universities and colleges who have woken up to the fact that there is a skills issue in manufacturing and engineering. That support extended to both the skills they can offer employees currently in industry and more importantly perhaps, they encouraged students to attend to meet the companies and indeed potential employers that were exhibiting. Skills and succession planning are still an issue on the ground, our members believe that manufacturing is still perceived poorly as a career choice and that has huge repercussions for future sustainable growth.

Made in the Midlands has set to out to challenge the poor perceptions surrounding engineering. What do you feel needs doing in order to address this?

In our Futures Report 41% of our members believed engineering was viewed as having a low professional status and no-one surveyed thought that it was seen as having a high professional status. We have every opportunity to create wealth, innovate and compete globally, but we need the people and the skills to move forward. Schools, parents, the government, the media and manufacturers themselves can all play their part. We hired mini-buses to ensure that students got to meet manufacturers in an attempt to break down the ‘dark satanic mills’ image that has been perpetuated for far too long. We truly believe here at Made in the Midlands that a short film extolling the virtues of a career in industry should be shown at Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) in every single school, coupled with a site visit to a manufacturer. This has the potential to be wrapped into a week of celebration that we can all get behind. There is a lot of well-meaning piecemeal activity, but it must be more strategic so we can sustain the current levels of success that manufacturing is currently enjoying.