On November 12, The Manufacturer welcomed delegates from across the spectrum of UK manufacturing to The Manufacturer Directors Conference 2009. Jane Gray, senior researcher at SayOne Media, reports.
Feedback on the day praised speakers for providing relevant and thought-provoking presentations. While many said the day was enjoyable, it also highlighted areas of manufacturing that are sorely in need of attention. This includes a general need for manufacturers to act on their commitments to the wider industry on a day-to-day basis.
Themes addressed by the conference included skills, industry engagement, and the opportunities available through harnessing the power of popular social trends and current affairs. For example, the green agenda makes electric vehicle development a much more viable business proposition today. These issues were passionately and vigorously debated and there was an urgent call to arms for all who have a vested interest in and passion for the prosperity of manufacturing in the UK to take real action now.
Some of our speakers and delegates comment on these issues:
Concern about the growing challenge posed by the gap in manufacturing skills prompted a vibrant presentation from Gordon Macrae and Linda Rawson of MX award-winning company Gripple. After the conference Rawson said “there are still many who are being lulled into a false sense of security at the moment; assuming that the high unemployment we are experiencing will provide an easy bolster to the manufacturing workforce. This is false. We need to put a higher value on our industry skills. We need to take on the responsibility of working proactively with education to ensure that manufacturing has a future workforce well versed in key industry concepts and skills — like constraint theory and lean or six sigma principles. Employers need to realise the potential that creating this workforce would give. If they do not, British manufacturing will die a death.”
One of our delegates, Tim Admans-Palmer, of Lewisham College’s The Skills People, added to this issue emphasising the need for employer engagement with education.
He said: “The Manufacturer Directors Conference was a real opportunity for us to get under the skin of Britain’s top manufacturers and gain understanding of their frustrations and development needs.
We have many mechanisms for working with employers, but we need the invaluable experience of manufacturing to help us shape our strategy, our curriculum and our delivery methods. Without this knowledge transfer how can we support operational excellence and the imparting of skills for the development of the manufacturers of tomorrow?
Addressing manufacturers, he added: “Get involved with your local college and discuss ways you can work in partnership, explore ways you can tailor modern apprenticeships to fit your needs. There is great work being done by The Edge Foundation on practical learning which needs as much input from employers as possible.
It’s no longer good enough to say young people are not being taught the right kinds of skills they require in industry. Go that extra step and say what those skills needs are to those willing to provide them.”
New interest in how things work
Taking a different approach, yet one which still relies heavily on the availability of the right skills, Charles Morgan of the Morgan Motor Company said that the conference was effective in raising the imperative of innovation and R&D. “For a small company like mine, now looking to expand into new technology markets like electric cars, there are challenges in accessing funds and we rely on government bodies like the Technology Strategy Board for assistance.”
Morgan sees that there is a real chance now for industry to harness trends in broader socio-economic interests. “Popular issues such as sustainability and the green agenda have given rise to a new enthusiasm for engineering – people are once again becoming fascinated by how things are made and the challenges involved in making products that perform to the radically changed demands of our present and future. Many old designs are now redundant. Our knowledge transfer partnerships are currently benefiting from renewed interest from the brightest young minds.”
In tune with this view that integrates core manufacturing processes with the wider world, Professor Peter Hines of Cardiff University says that he was encouraged by the high attendance at his presentation, which highlighted how companies cam merge their lean and green agendas for the mutual improvement of each. “Although many companies now have relatively mature lean and green agendas few have taken the next step to combine the two for amplified effect. This is indicative of a common failure in manufacturing to sustain a holistic end-to-end view of how different business processes can enhance one another – we are missing out.”
Attendees at The Manufacturer Directors Conference spoke about these issues with great force, a sign to the broader manufacturing community of the commitment necessary from industry to secure long term stability and prosperity for the sector. Endless talk of “what government should do” was lambasted by many who bluntly stated that the onus is on those within industry who care about its future to attend to its needs.