Sheffield festival kicks off

Posted on 14 Mar 2011 by The Manufacturer

Steel yourself for some Sheffield forged celebrations as the Global Manufacturing Festival 2011 swings into full flow.

The Global Manufacturing Festival 2011, hosted this year in one of the world’s strongest centres for manufacturing heritage, Sheffield, kick-started a jam-packed week of activities today. The festival, which launched in London on January 18, provides several opportunities to visit the factories of some of Sheffield’s world famous engineering firms. Delegates from industry, the banking sector, local and national government and the media are expected to use the events to learn more about local business opportunities and headline manufacturing trends.

The week’s programme kicked off today with a range of events that focused on issues from taxation policy through to enthusing the next generation of engineering talent. Two notable events included the ‘Rebalancing the economy’ lunchtime debate, instigated by Lloyds TSB, and a series of factory tours at heavy engineering firm DavyMarkham.

The former event brought together industry leaders and experts in the fields of accountancy, law and policy, to discuss how the UK should be looking to create a sustainable and balanced economy. The outcome of debate drew some large question marks over the definition of these objectives and questioned whether policy drivers truly understand what they mean by them. Brian McKenzie, vice-president of Firth Rixon UK and Europe commented on the inadequacy of definition in policitical rhetoric and offered his interpretation saying: “At the end of the day I think we are talking about creating wealth. It is all about how you take the resources available and how you deploy them.”

This feeling the self-determination in success and failure was echoed by other panellists at the event who overwhelmingly expressed the opinion that government must allow industry to get on with what it knows best and stop “tinkering with markets they do not understand” as Graham Honeyman, cheif executive of Sheffield Forgemasters put it. In particular the focus of discussion settled heavily on the need for industry to realise more universally the necessity of investing for growth.

Comments were made about the need for greater capital allowances better support for R&D from government, but, largely, discussion of investment priorities showed that industry leaders view it as the responsibility of industry itself to pursue opportunities in this area.

Hugh Facey, executive chairman of Gripple, and Brian McKenzie both shared that their companies plough around 5% of each annual turnover into R&D, or as Gripple prefers to call it, Ideas and Innovation. Facey stated the challenge: “It is not about government. It is about manufacturing and about how we do it.”

The ‘how we do it’ part of this message was proven, both at the Lloyds debate and at other events today, to be unequivocally down to the people employed in manufacturing companies at every level to decide. No matter how advanced the technologies being put to use or the lines being automated, the need for talented people with relevant skills for the strategic direction of industry was highlighted time and again.

The Engineering Training Centre in Sheffield spent the day showcasing the way it is working with young people in the area as well as major industry players like Sheffield Forgemaster in order to ensure that the possible applications of STEM skills are realised early on by those with aptitude, and the DavyMarkham factory tour gave visitors the chance to understand the workings behind one of the nation’s most highly commended apprenticeship programmes.

Offering a word of caution within the hubbub of celebration at that the festival is causing in Sheffield however, Graham Honeyman warned assembled delegates at the Lloyds ‘Rebalancing the Economy’ debate that companies must not be lured into the temptation to take up incentives to over train for apprenticeships that will not lead to jobs: “We need to be very careful with apprenticeships. At Forgemeaters we have around 30 apprenticeships every year and every one of those leads to a job. Apprenticeships must mean jobs, not just a lot of qualified but unemployed people. That will only lead to disaffection.”

TM will be offering more coverage of the Global manufacturing Festival through this week of highlights. Keep visiting the site for the latest updates.