We recently attended a manufacturing event at The House of Lords, which brought together leading manufacturers and policy makers to discuss the future of this industry. The event was organised by All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group (APMG) and industry body EEF.
Before this we were at the House of Commons to interview APMG Co-Chair and Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman for our manufacturing TV series. Coincidentally Huddersfield is my hometown and it was refreshing to speak to an MP who was so passionate about the region and its manufacturing industry.
Mr Sheerman passionately stressed the importance of re-manufacturing and a circular economy, in essence reusing materials at the end of their life instead of using for landfill. The APMG launched the Triple Win Report, an 8 month enquiry into the economic, social and environmental benefits of re-manufacturing, after which they laid down Government and industry recommendations. The report warned that the future of manufacturing is ‘inextricably linked to environmental sustainability’.
Although smaller than it used to be, the UK manufacturing industry still employs around 2.6million people and provides 11% of the nation’s gross value added. Mr Sheerman was clearly excited about the future of the industry and implored the Government to provide more incentives for companies to innovate and invest in new technologies. To overcome the skills shortage he stressed the importance of investing in people and skills and increasing the relevance of university courses and the number of apprentices.
CEO of manufacturing body EEF Terry Scuoler spoke to us about the need for better work-orientated graduates. Harnessing innovation to equip young people with the necessary skills will define the future of this industry. As will Industry 4.0, which uses cyber and digital technology to connect and innovate manufacturing processes and drive output. Mr Scuoler described this as the “fourth industrial revolution” and called on manufacturers to embrace this form of digital linkage.
The potential British exit from the EU has been a hot topic and was widely mentioned throughout the event. Mr Scuoler gave a rousing speech about the necessity of the UK remaining in the EU for the future of UK manufacturing. Mr Sheerman said he was “appalled” by the prospect of leaving the EU. This attitude seems a recurring one within this industry, with a survey of manufacturing members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers finding that 72% thought that leaving the EU would impede on trade exports.
Stats from ONS recently found that Britain’s productivity gap with European rivals like France is around 20%. The UK is looking to address this, with private sector investment increasing by around 7%. Mr Scuoler spoke of the importance of science research and development and utilising applied science more. Catapult centres have been introduced to close the gap between early innovation and full-scale production within high-value manufacturing. These centres provide leading open-access equipment, expertise and collaboration opportunities.
On the whole we’ve found manufacturers and policy makers in cautiously confident mood about the future of the industry. One of the positives from the recession seems to be the realisation that the UK cannot survive without vibrant engineering and manufacturing sectors.
Our manufacturing series features leading manufacturers and industry experts and broadcasts on Sky TV from next month. Please share this article and follow us on Twitter for updates.
Written by Martin Stocks | @Stocks1986