Guest speakers from Xtrac, BAE Systems and TechnicalNature shared their passion for careers in manufacturing at the annual Southern Manufacturing 100 dinner to launch the search for the region’s top manufacturing apprentices.
The awards are open to all engineering and manufacturing companies in the Thames Valley and Solent & South Central region.
Apprentices or their employers can submit nominations here. The closing date is July 2, 2019.
The Southern Manufacturing 100 listing of the top manufacturing businesses in the region is published by The Business Magazine and sponsored by MHA MacIntyre Hudson and Lloyds Bank.
Sponsors and executives from Southern Manufacturing 100 companies attended the dinner at the Royal Berkshire Conference Centre in Reading’s Madejski Stadium.
Xtrac’s president Peter Digby is a former British Airways engineering apprentice. He talked about the Thatcham-based company’s impressive rise to be a world leader in the design and manufacture of transmissions and driveline components for top-level motorsport and high-performance automotive applications.
Xtrac invests up to £5m a year in the latest computer-aided machine tools and the best employees.
“We love apprentices and really support them,” said Digby. “Manufacturing apprenticeships create valuable skilled and incredibly loyal employees. Over 85% of all our apprentices still work for the company, including the very first one from 1990.”
Digby is also a champion of employee share ownership. Xtrac is 51% owned by its management team and 49% by the rest of its employees.
“Employee share ownership really motivates and drives the entire workforce, who directly benefit from the success of the company,” he said.
Abbi Fisher, the 2018 Southern Manufacturing Apprentice of the Year, is a master data management lead at BAE Systems in Portsmouth’s naval base.
She said: “Apprenticeships can play a part in reducing the resourcing risks that we have for our existing commitments and for growing the talent of the future.”
Noting that the Engineering UK 2018 report shows the UK faces a 124,000 shortfall in engineers and technicians, she said: “The report finds there are too few STEM subject teachers, too few women in engineering, and too little homegrown talent in the UK.
“It’s up to us to address skill shortages in our industry and future-proof our businesses. That’s going to take commitment and collaboration from engineering companies and having more role models in schools.”
Fisher explained that her own career route into engineering was an “unconventional journey”. She said: “I’ve always been intrigued by the way things work. When I was six, I was taking our VHS player apart and building my own dolls house.”
Rather than going to university, she joined BAE Systems’ apprenticeship scheme. “I wanted to be able to apply what I was learning to the real world,” she said.
Fisher concluded: “I love what I do and am excited to go to work. BAE Systems is benefiting from that through my increased productivity and passion to innovate. I’m also able to be the role model that I never had to inspire the next generation of engineers.”
Erica Purvis set up Reading-based TechnicalNature in 2014. She offers businesses sustainable design and business coaching.
Referring to the ‘Blue Planet’ effect that intensified public concern over climate change and plastic waste, she said: “We need designs for life, with greater collaboration between engineering and manufacturing to get to the root causes of the problems and think about how we can mitigate them and adapt.”
Purvis highlighted three areas where change is needed: products, people’s behaviours and policy. “Designers and engineers have a responsibility, especially those involved in mass manufacturing.”
She emphasised that a switch is needed from traditional linear economies, where products generally begin life with mineral extraction and often end up in landfill, to a circular economy focused on recycling, re-using and remaking products.
“We need to think about where waste is happening, how we can take it back, and how we can get value from it,” said Purvis.
It’s not all gloom and doom, though. Purvis encourages people to stay curious, connect, collaborate and continuously learn. “Together, we can make things better by making things better,” she said.