Manufacturers go back to school

Posted on 8 Jan 2010 by The Manufacturer

A flurry of new collaborative projects puts university collaboration with manufacturing top of the agenda in quest to rebalance the economy

The skills agenda was hotly debated in both industry and government last year. Now the talk turns into action with several collaborative projects involving government, academia and industry, all aspiring to nurture the future knowledge base of a rebalanced economy.

Manufacturing industry champions were vocal in 2009 about three main things: the need for greater support of STEM (science and maths) subjects in schools and colleges, a methodology for ensuring a sound balance between vocational and academic training, and a revitalisation of manufacturing’s image if the brightest talent is to be attracted into the industry.

The coming of the new year seems to have kicked the zest of action into the vigorously argued sentiments of skills advocates such as Alan Cook (Cobham), David Fox (Power Panels), Alan McLenaghan (Saint-Gobain Glass) and George Kessler (Kesslers International) as numerous companies and institutions take up the challenge secure a future for advanced manufacturing in the UK.

Here are three of the most prominent projects proposed for 2010:

The Big Bang Young Scientists’ and Engineers’ Fair was announced in late 2009 and will take place in conjunction with National Science and Engineering Week. The event, which will be hosted at the Manchester Central Convention Complex on March 11-13, will conclude the National Science and Engineering competition for young enthusiasts and will feature demonstrations of how this talent might be applied in the future by leading innovators Siemens, AstraZeneca, BAE Systems and Shell who are collaborating to sponsor the enterprise. (For more information visit

Indeed Siemens seem to be energetically taking up the mantel of engagement with young people, as the engineering conglomerate also partners a project at the University of Lincoln to establish the first dedicated School of Engineering in the UK for the last 20 years.

The School aims to address the challenges facing industry in the future. Professor Paul Stewart, Head of the School of Engineering describes the launch of the enterprise as extremely timely, addressing the fundamental issues of energy production, conversion and distribution, and ultimately delivery of a low carbon economy.

Small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Lincoln region will benefit significantly from the focus on engaging with employers in technology transfer, research and development and knowledge exchange, in order to enhance business competitiveness and the regional economy.

The announcement of Lincoln’s initiative came yesterday (January 7) in tandem with a news release from Brunel University in Leicestershire that £9 million will be invested in a new pioneering engineering centre specialising in metallurgy, an industry employing about 400,000 people nationwide. The innovative Manufacturing Research Centre is supported by a total of 15 industrial partners and will function as a single entity between the universities of Brunel, Oxford and Birmingham.

Collaboration with education and investment in the real economy seems finally to be delivering the action to match the rhetoric that is necessary for closing the skills gap.

Jane Gray