Lymington Precision Engineers Co (LPE), 102nd on the Solent 250, has been a manufacturer of precision machined components, fabrications, assemblies and kit sets for various industries for over 30 years.
Manufacturing is in the full glare of the media spotlight. The emphasis seems to focus both on engineering and how to train the next generation. But that doesn’t help some companies who want to recruit skilled people today.
LPE produces components for customers working in oil and gas, telecommunications, aerospace and defence, land and sea systems, nuclear and marine.
From its 92,000 sq ft state-of-the-art manufacturing premises in Lymington, LPE puts its success down to continued investment in technology and machinery and close liaison with all its customers, to meet their immediate and diverse requirements.
Prospects for the next three to five years are strong because, as finance director Richard Cole explains: “We operate in growth markets. There’s still a big focus on oil and gas, but also in telecoms and nuclear.“
But if the company had to isolate a chief obstacle to growth in 2012, managing director Tony Chalk says it would be finding the highly-skilled labour our business requires.
Chalk joined LPE as a machinist when the staff numbered approximately 14 – that figure is now 188 – and having trained and risen through the ranks in a career spanning 28 years, he is well placed to comment on the sector.
Although LPE is not planning acquisitions in the year ahead, sensible growth is always assessed. “Price is a major consideration because nobody is giving anything away,“ says Cole. “We’d like to buy more in the UK; there are four machines we could buy tomorrow that would help us, but you’re looking at a £2 million funding risk, the interest rate risk – and then we’d need to find skilled people to operate the machines.“
New markets are developing with new-build nuclear projects in the UK and while both directors believe the Government is keen to keep the supply chain in the UK, they are concerned at why manufacturing has weakened during the past two decades. “Youngsters are not encouraged to go into engineering,“ says Cole, “yet as a business we are continually trying to be more global, not just UK based. We export more components and deliver directly to countries including France and China. China cannot do what we do; it’s not agile enough in the high end production processes, nor inventive enough, and consistency for them seems to be a real problem.“
On course for £43m turnover in the current year, the high-value of LPE components means the company compares very favourably with its competitors. Customers want long-term value and quality and they get both from LPE.
With 188 staff, LPE could employ 10 more skilled workers instantly if they were available; LPE had vacancies for millers, turners, inspectors, a quality engineer, a planner/estimator, project controller and toolmaker when The Business Magazine visited.
A major employer in the New Forest and surrounding areas, LPE recognises its employees are its greatest asset and the part they have played in the company’s success.
Committed to training, LPE recruits two or three apprentices each year, generally from the Bournemouth and Poole College. Chalk says: “We try to take on local people, because it helps with commuting and other factors. The right people receive an excellent apprenticeship and our retention rate is pretty high. If we lose someone for a spell, they may return and carry on with their career. The scheme provides the engineering industry with young, skilled engineers, helping to promote and encourage engineering in the UK.“
A key incentive across the entire workforce is the profit share scheme, whereby a percentage of profit after tax is split, taking into account seniority and length of service. Staff also have an excellent working environment, not only throughout the clean, tidy, organised shop floor areas, but also in the manner in which the workforce is kept informed through clear quarterly briefings. Everyone is encouraged to enter the pension scheme, which the company contributes to, and there is a high take up, especially as people become more aware that a state scheme may not cover all their future requirements.
Regulatory issues which hold back the business include employment legislation. When an employee is not suited to the work, it can be difficult to change their roles or remove them. However, Health & Safety is paramount and LPE takes pride in a safe and organised shop floor.
And a key message for the Government? “Alter the tax regime to get more retired skilled people providing on the job training,“ concludes Cole, while Chalk adds: “It should have continued to back manufacturing 20 years ago. We need skilled engineers.“
LPE shop floor
Lymington Precision Engineers Co website