Taylor Made Computer Solutions is a proud sponsor of The Business Magazine’s Southern Manufacturing 100. Here, managing director Tim Walker gives us his take on manufacturing in the south, and suggests some smart thinking on recruitment that could help cement its future success
“Manufacturing is more than just putting parts together – it’s coming up with ideas, testing principles and perfecting the engineering”.
So said Sir James Dyson, whose position as Britain’s best-known engineer relies upon thousands of skilled workers converting his groundbreaking ideas into real-world products.
Sir James would be delighted to see how his thinking is reflected in the south. As the recent Southern Manufacturing 100 revealed, we are fortunate to have so many manufacturing companies in very good health – more here than in any other UK region.
Looking at the eligible companies together, themes emerge – in particular a commitment to quality and a desire to succeed that puts them at the cutting edge in their chosen field, and makes British manufacturing stand out above the rest of the world in terms of quality.
The businesses behind these success stories also share the same challenges, particularly when it comes to finding the skilled workers they need to sustain growth.
Global uncertainties, increased automation and the migration of work overseas have played their part in shrinking the numbers of young people who are looking at manufacturing as a career option.
That has led to a decline in the number of university courses producing skilled graduates who can enter the job market, and in turn there is wage inflation and the lure of the larger companies to contend with as competition for fewer candidates increases.
This is perhaps where we need to adopt Sir James’ attitude to thinking his way around a problem, and apply his mindset not just to the conception and assembly of products but to the way we find the right people for the job.
One method would be to change the way we look at recruitment, and instead of following the traditional model of competing for the best potential employees, we concentrate on growing our own.
Much like a football manager might seek to bring up future talent through a youth academy, we should be looking to attract and train more and more apprentices from the region.
The benefits are clear – the Government helps with the cost of training, the young person gains a qualification and the end result is a highly-engaged employee who has known the business from a young age, has grown with it and has a deep understanding of the company, its standards and its values.
All the evidence suggests that recruiting in this way increases retention rates when compared to taking on graduates, who are likely to have moved away from home and will be more willing to move again from job to job.
This investment in home-grown talent is the philosophy we follow at Taylor Made, where we have taken on six apprentices this year in both business and technical roles.
In the IT sector we see big corporations such as Microsoft supporting accredited skills training schemes – a model that perhaps could be used within manufacturing to the benefit of the industry as a whole.
So what might the future hold for these young recruits? We know that some manufacturing will always go overseas, especially to the Far East, particularly when it comes mass production. But that has a positive effect in moving Britain up the quality curve when it comes to fine detail, precision engineering.
The Government’s UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) department knows this, and from my experience is performing well when it comes to spreading the ‘Great Britain’ message abroad.
I was at a UKTI event in Auckland attended by hundreds of people and found it fascinating that messages about the quality and innovation of British manufacturing were being heard by people on the other side of the world in a way that was going to open up that market.
In Britain we should perhaps sing our praises in this way more often – the manufacturing sector may be smaller than it has been in the past but it is now far more productive and efficient.
In his Budget speech in 2011, in which he spoke about supporting British manufacturers, George Osborne talked about how he wanted to encourage a “march of the makers”.
We aren’t seeing that quite yet, but with investment in the workforce and a willingness to proudly boast about the quality and versatility of British manufacturing, we can take huge steps in the right direction.
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