What’s in store at EEF’s National Manufacturing Conference 2014?
We have the technology, we have the capability to rebuild British manufacturing and create an industry that leads the world – now we just need more commercial tenacity, resolve to export and the will to make good on investment intentions.
There’s optimism, dynamism and ambition among the team putting together this year’s National Manufacturing Conference – from the speakers, including industry leaders, senior politicians and financial experts, to the organisers at EEF.
The vibrancy comes on the back of multiple positive indicators for growth in the year ahead. In January, EEF, Lloyds bank, Deloitte, the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce all issued reports on the increasingly clement economic climate and the rising spirits of business leaders.
“But optimism and investment intention needs to translate into real activity on the ground,” says Terry Scuoler, CEO of EEF, “and at this year’s conference there will be some focused debate on exactly how growth is to be achieved. I strongly believe it will only be achieved when we see an increase in capital investment and when we address the productivity puzzle which has been troubling Britain in recent years.”
Mr Scuoler hopes that networking, knowledge exchange and inspiration at the trade body’s third national conference will provoke business leaders to grasp these nettles.
Nigel Stein, CEO of British manufacturer GKN is looking forward to playing his part in achieving this objective.
“It can’t be emphasized enough how much the country needs to rebuild its manufacturing base,” he told TM.
“Progress has been made but there is still a long way to go.”
Action not words
Will industry skills gaps be up for debate at EEF’s National Manufacturing Conference?
The availability of skilled workers to take forward the UK’s industrial ambitions is a never ending source of passionate talk at industry events. But Nigel Stein, CEO of GKN and a keynote speaker at EEF’s National Manufacturing Conference urges this year’s delegates not to dwell on the topic.
“We have to touch on skills of course. The issue is crucial. But I think the problems have been recognised and it is now time for employers to get on and do what needs to be done in order to build a strong skills base.”
This raises the opportunity to give more air time to some other, equally important issues which are holding back a widespread increase in the competitiveness of UK industry says Mr Stein. “I think there is a problem problem with short term thinking in the UK,” he asserts. “This has translated into a residual reluctance for many, to make the incremental investments in capital equipment and innovation that need to be made to keep ahead of competition.”
This argument is of a piece with Scuoler’s concerns over UK productivity.
“Have we seen productivity dip because employers have preferred to invest in relatively cheap labour during the recession, rather than making capital investments which will support sustainable growth in productivity?” he asks.
EEF’s conference partner Canon is determined to address the productivity conundrum and is working alongside EEF to promote smarter ways of working which Barrie Street, European and UK customer marketing manager at EEF’s technology partner Canon, says can help “power productivity”.
In January, David Cameron launched of ReshoreUK, a new advisory service to help bring more manufacturing investment back to the UK.
The announcement invigorated debate around a topic which EEF had already identified as hot for discussion.
“Reshoring is one of two major discussion areas on our agenda at this year’s
conference,” comments Scuoler. “Last year, a conversation around reshoring would have been based mostly on a few anecdotes. We have moved on from that. But we need to understand the decision points for reshoring more thoroughly.
“There have been tragedies in supply chain – Fukushima, the cyclone in the Philippines – transport costs are rising and governments are working to make their business environments more attractive. We know that these are concerns for leaders in our sector. But we need to understand better how Britain is positioned when relocating manufacturing is considered.”
Scuoler says there needs to be more hard data collected on this topic and he looks forward to seeing more efforts on this throughout the year. At the conference however, insight will be given by manufacturers and other stakeholders in businesses that have reshored, helping delegates with similar potential in their operations to understand the business case.
It’s important to emphasize the debate EEF wants to host with regards to reshoring, is not about parochialism or protectionism. It is aligned closely with the second major theme at the 2014 conference – exports.
“We’ve been involved in supporting export growth for a long time,” says Scuoler. “Long before the current Chancellor set the £1trn export target we argued that increasing net trade is good for the economy and good for competitiveness.”
Scuoler explains, “It takes a measure of leadership to sell your products around the world. If you are selling your goods and services overseas, de facto, you have to drive productivity, efficiency and investment.”
EEF’s panel of speakers for the export session at the National Manufacturing Conference are an eclectic bunch. There’ll be representation from UKTI, providing insight into the support available for exporters, as well as real stories of troubles and triumphs from companies as diverse as BAE Systems and SME organic cosmetics maker Pai Skincare.
Sarah Brown, CEO and founder of Pai is excited about taking part in the session. “It’s a great opportunity,” she says. “This is a high profile event.” Pai gains about 50% of its revenues from exports, at the moment largely through online sales, but it is working hard to expand its international retail presence in selected outlets.
Finding the right partners can be tricky says Ms Brown but her real bug bear about exports is the cost of protecting her brand and IP and she is full of suggestions about ways in which the cost of filing patents and securing trade mark protection could be eased for smaller firms.
Her ideas may be of interest to EEF’s conference sponsor, NatWest.
Acknowledging the positive indicators which have been pouring in from various surveys for growth across manufacturing sectors and company sizes, Mark Eastwood head of manufacturing, commercial banking at NatWest has promised that “One of our key aims in 2014 is to support export and international trade for manufacturers across our UK wide team.”
Compete for a treat
Win Pai Skincare and Hotel Chocolat products at the EEF National Manufacturing Conference by participating in the trade body’s Twitter competition.
Throughout February @EEF_Press will ask followers to pick their favourite or most influential UK-made products from a selection nominated each day.
The products will be grouped alphabetically and will range from the well-known to the obscure and humorous.
Casting a vote will enter you into the ballot and a winner will be picked on the day of the National Manufacturing Conference.
Just follow @EEF_Press to join in the competition.
EEF’s National Manufacturing Conference will take place on March 4 in London.
Find out more here: www.manufacturingconference.co.uk