Could skilled jobs follow more basic manufacturing out of Britain?

Posted on 12 Sep 2018 by Maddy White

If less developed countries have and are taking basic component making away from the UK, will highly skilled jobs in manufacturing eventually follow suit?

The Manufacturer sat down with Tom Brown, to discuss how he thinks from his extensive background, manufacturing can survive, revive and thrive in the future.

Tom Brown is pictured
Tom Brown is pictured.

Brown who has been a main board director for 22 companies, and who has worked for over 45 years in industrysaid that in theory the UK can defend the advanced manufacturing sector.

He said: “It should be more about the value you can add through clever, smart engineering, rather than the value you can add with your arm muscle, which we can do in the UK.

“What is against us for example, is that places like Asia are moving toward more skilled production, when previously they were doing more basic component making, they are now undertaking very high-tech projects and they have very able engineers, well-educated, creative and very hard-working.”

Brown said that this could “potentially eat our lunch. The idea that we do the clever engineering and let people offshore do the more basic manufacturing is not going to work anymore.”

It seems unlikely that skilled manufacturing jobs will leave Britain, as many sectors in UK manufacturing including aerospace and automotive are world-leading, with some of the most innovative and advanced companies based in Britain, not to mention the record food and drink export figure of £10.7bn hit for the first six months of the year.

But why could this be a potential issue?

Brown explained he believes the problem centers around the idea that manufacturing businesses aren’t considered as highly in the UK comparative to other countries, like Germany or the US.

With Brexit looming too, the uncertainty of UK trade tariffs means many businesses could potentially relocate and have raised concerns to do so, if the government proposals for free trade with the EU are not approved by Europe.

He said: “A lot of people in the UK go into medicine or law, not business. Of those who go into business there tends to be a hierarchy, people want to go into banking and finance, manufacturing tends to be right down the list.”

Brown is optimistic and believes things are slowly changing though: “There is more realisation, and people now understand that manufacturing and engineering actually offer really interesting career paths.”

Maria Collins and Charles Bamford (both IMI Precision Engineering) - image courtesy of IMI Precision Engineering.
Maria Collins and Charles Bamford (both IMI Precision Engineering) – image courtesy of IMI Precision Engineering.

This interest can be reflected in the several initiatives encouraging young people to undertake skilled apprenticeships across the UK.

One young apprentice, Maria Collins, who is completing a three-year apprenticeship in mechanical engineering and who is also shortlisted for The Manufacturer MX Awards 2018 in the category, Young Manufacturer of the Year, spoke to The Manufacturer about apprenticeships and manufacturing.

Collins, who works at the Fradley site of Birmingham-based IMI Precision Engineering, said: “In an apprenticeship you gain practical experience, you learn highly-skilled processes and then they are put straight into practice.

“Apprenticeships are fantastic for vocational learning” she said. “If you are unsure, just go for it because it is the best decision I made. You get the best of both worlds.”