The Future of UK Manufacturing

With the UK’s manufacturing industry critical to the UK’s economic recovery, we are producing a series of programmes exploring this industry in depth. We interviewed The All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group (APMG). This is the body that brings politicians together, irrespective of party, to create policy and research to promote and develop UK manufacturing.

Michael Folkerson, APMG, Manager
Michael Folkerson, APMG, Manager

Despite the significant positivity from manufacturers we’ve interviewed there are still issues which need addressing. The skills shortage seems most urgent with many manufacturers worried about the industries sustainability after the current generation of expertise retires. Michael Folkerson, APMG, Manager  said this was the most critical issue the industry is facing.

The APMG’s 2013 report Making Good: A Study of Culture and Competitiveness in UK Manufacturing warned of a national industrial culture discouraging companies from investing in skills development and technological innovation. This could be referred to as short-termism, which is understandable as during the recession companies had to ensure their immediate survival. Yet now things are looking up companies need to strive to educate and recruit the next generation of manufacturers.

The government has embraced apprenticeships, which can only be a good thing as this industry was built on the knowledge of apprentices. All manufacturers stress the need for practical knowledge within apprentices. Mr Folkerson said that apprenticeships should be given the same standing as Universities. Addressing the skills shortage and recruiting enough new talent is an urgent necessity in achieving the UK’s industrial sustainability.

The industry is also still behind the pre-recession output levels and we lag behind our peers in terms of productivity growth and research and development spending. Embracing innovation and investing in research and development has been a key feature within the companies we’ve featured on this series and they’re seeing the benefit. Naomi Turner, APMG, Head of Manufacturing, Design & Innovation stressed that manufacturing needs to improve in the commercialisation of research and development. So in essence, the industry needs to develop and incorporate new innovations quicker and more effectively. The Government has set up Catapult Centres, accelerator schemes solely dedicated to developing emerging technology and bringing it to market.

Naomi Turner, APMG, Head of Manufacturing, Design, Innovation
Naomi Turner, APMG, Head of Manufacturing, Design, Innovation

Innovation is probably the most exciting and positive area within UK manufacturing. We’ve found that the most successful manufacturers are the ones that rapidly adopt new innovations and this process starts with their senior management. Mr Folkerson talked of the importance of the industry collaborating together and hinted at how important open-source innovation will be in the future.

We are also in the era of mass-customisation with products increasingly designed to precisely meet customers’ needs. It is now more cost-effective to produce small batches of prototypes and involving the end user throughout the design and manufacturing process helps to avoid the costs of retrospective engineering.

With the uncertainty of the prolonged election build-up finally over, some uncertainty still remains. Mainly on whether we will leave the EU or not and what effect this will have on industries like manufacturing. This contentious issue has divided the Conservative Party and remains highly debated within the industry. Richard Branson said leaving the EU would be “catastrophic” for Britain.

Tune into our upcoming Manufacturing Excellence series to see what industry leaders have to say. If you’re a manufacturing company interested in taking part in this series please email us at info@collaborativemedia.co.uk or call us on 020 8446 5460.

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Written by Martin Stocks | @Stocks1986

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