Top 100 interview: Shaun Pledger, Alloy Fabweld

Posted on 22 Mar 2022 by The Manufacturer

Shaun PledgerThe Manufacturer Top 100 2021 Shaun Pledger is inspired everyday by the people he work with. Having a great culture creates happiness in the workplace which in turn creates fantastic relationships with both my colleagues and customers. With over 30 years’ experience, Pledger knows working hard for customers and making a profit is just the start. Doing this, enables him to support local initiatives such as Steel Warriors and Hashtag Big Smile in South Africa. These projects are changing people’s lives every single day. Modern methods of manufacturing brings the opportunity to offer real sustainable value to challenge thought processes and develop people. It keeps Pledger truly curious about new ideas and innovation in the world of metal as the company lead Modular Construction in the UK.

Click here to view the video of the full top 100 interview with Shaun Pledger.

What is your role at Alloy Fabweld?

I’m the Group Managing Director of Alloy Fabweld, a group of companies that specialise in construction, engineering and innovation across the UK. We’re based over a number of sites in Essex. We have a staff of 200+ people and we have a senior team that runs our engineering across our sites.

What does it mean to you to be part of the Top 100?

I was very happy that I’ve been considered for the Top 100. And I realise just how important this achievement is not only to myself, but to our companies as well, because clearly, we can only win achievements of this type with a good team around us.

I think that it benchmarks UK manufacturing, UK innovation and most importantly of all, it shows in the UK we can do great things, and all the people who have been recommended for the Top 100 all have one thing in common – they’re all can do and they’re all nice people.

What do you think are the key attributes which led to you being nominated?

I like to think it’s about how we run our engineering businesses and finding new markets, investing in not only our businesses but other businesses coming into the group to make us an even better fit together. Our culture is what drives all of us. And I think a company that has a strong culture and a strong why, really manages to deliver purpose. I hope that maybe the Top 100 recognise that and we’re very keen to work in other areas around the world and support other communities as well.

We’re associated with various charities – St Claire Hospice, Hashtag Big Smile and also, Steel Warriors in the UK, where we help build gyms in parks from melted down knives. I think that starts to bring together our purpose, our culture, it brings our people together, keeps us innovated forward and we just like to grow and expand and employ lovely people.

What do you find most inspiring about working in manufacturing and when did you realise this is the career for you?

Manufacturing was definitely in my blood. My father came through a metal work career and he’s a watchmaker fixing casements and brass clocks. As a young child I used to go to the jewellers with him, and from the age of six or seven, I was bronze welding or making small things out of metal materials. This stood me in good stead as I went through school. I was very practically minded, and I knew probably from 14-15 I was going to run a business. I actually started saving to start a business around that age as well. So by the time I started our businesses at 26, I was able to self-fund them.

Who or what has been the biggest influences on your career in manufacturing?

Manufacturing brings many influences. In the early years, mature people who were running large construction companies, gave me invaluable advice and enabled me and the team to springboard our businesses forward. Also, the employees and people I’ve met along the way – we have employed some fantastic people  and I’ve learned so much from them and that’s helped develop our businesses and it will keep on doing so as we develop our people.

What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far and how have you overcome it?

Challenges in business are part and parcel of running one. I don’t actually look upon them as a challenge or difficulty. I look upon them as a challenge of optimism. We completed some bridges for Mace in Stratford Park – 12 stories high, 60 tonnes modularised in two components. Probably the most difficult job we made today. The lifting plans, how we built them, how we access and arranged them, was a challenge, but we all loved it and it took the company to the next level. Challenge brings opportunity and I think with opportunity, the world is our oyster.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in manufacturing during your career?

The opportunities in manufacturing over the last ten years have been significant. People have recognised that manufacturing needs to come home. We need to source in-house. And I’ve seen CNC grow enormously, as computers and youngsters have become more embedded in the businesses. We now do things that we could only have dreamt of doing 15 years ago, with computers, profile cutting, shaping and forming. And lots of it is driven by a younger workforce. They bring the opportunities that we couldn’t find. I think by having a strong approach to bringing a mobile young workforce through the business, manufacturing and its opportunities will keep on growing with us.

What are the biggest challenges that are facing manufacturing as a whole and how are you and your company seeking to address this?

Over the last few years, there has been a significant challenge around roadmapping COVID and how we as a business carried on operating and made sure we look after the safety of our employees and those around us. These challenges do still exist and it’s up to us as business leaders to make sure that we deliver a safe working environment not only for today, but we take that cause forward, learn from that and make sure we keep on maximising the changes that the business needs.

I think COVID has been a great example of changing businesses for the better across the UK, and I feel it’s been a positive for us in the long run because it’s made us look at the process in our business, in order to run it more efficiently. Would we have done that without COVID? Highly unlikely. Brexit obviously has been a challenge as well. Material costs have been significantly increased and in sourcing materials and now staff, it has been difficult and I think these challenges are going to be with us for a number of years ahead. But with optimism, with vigour and with the approach that we all can do it together, we will carry on growing.

Can manufacturing learn anything from any other sectors? If so, what?

Manufacturing is starting to drive modern methods of construction. Manufacturing is learning from construction. It’s learning of different ways to install and design new systems, and new components that speed up the construction process. Would manufacturing have looked at this ten years ago, definitely not, because construction at the time didn’t embrace manufacturing. Now, manufacturing and construction have come together.

What sort of growth/change has your company implemented/gone through over the last 12/18 months and how has this been managed

Change over the last 18 months has been significant. Navigating COVID, materials and cost prices and people’s wellbeing – we’re still learning. We’ve made some mistakes. But we learn from mistakes, we’re moving forward and we’ll champion our new learnings. I’d like to think that our early mistakes in the COVID years will strengthen what we do in the future.

We realised the world is changing at such a fast pace, particularly in manufacturing. Therefore, I needed more experience to help me lead the businesses and grow and develop our people. So, we have a new CEO who joined us in March, Bill Williams. Bill is going to bring significant change to the business. He’s going to strengthen our culture, purpose and make us more lean. And I think most of all, is going to help us plan and map our future direction and growth.

Everyone wants to know their growth and their map. And working with Bill, our senior, workshop and site teams, are all going to know not just what they’re doing this year, but what they’re doing next year and the year after, and what their career paths will look like, how they can grow with the business, how they can become better people, and how they can learn more so that they make us better too. Bill is going to strengthen our apprenticeship training, how we employ young people, how we capitalise on their experience and their knowledge, and what they can bring to our businesses. It’s going to be a learning process, but a fun one.

What do you think will be the long-term legacy of this current period of unprecedented change with the manufacturing sector?

I think the last few years are going to leave a legacy of learning – of knowing how to do things differently. The legacy is realising our people are our most important asset. People have to come before profit. Wellbeing has to be considered. And I think we as bosses and members of the Top 100, we recognise that.

Being associated with like-minded people, I think we’ll see a better world ahead. Manufacturing is here to stay in the UK. It’s going to strengthen and it’s going to change the landscape of how people are educated, learn and work.

What advice would you have for any younger people who are considering a career in manufacturing?

We’ve always realised that to get young people into the business, we have to capture their imagination early – 10-11 years old. We go into schools and present ‘Mad About Metal’ deliveries where we tell them about steel, alloys, how you use it, why you use it and the modern methods of construction that go with that.

We’re just going through the phases of building a new factory, and it’s all going to be built around young people and attracting talent to come into our industry. And we hope this ten year plan will see our next period of new artisans, skill sets and managers of the future. We’re really passionate about working in our communities. These people will carry that culture forward. They’ll make our community stronger. We don’t want to drive miles to work. We want to employ locally. We want to become the best engineers we can, locally. We make engineering great and we help promote UK manufacturing and everything that goes with that.