Every pound invested in UK manufacturing shores up entire economy - Greg Wright

Every pound invested in UK manufacturing helps to shore up an economy which has been buffeted by violent headwinds over the last decade.

The drive and flair of the region’s manufacturers were on display at a major roundtable event which I had the privilege of hosting in York.

The event, which attracted more than 20 industry leaders, provided an opportunity to bang the drum for a sector which has been hit by supply chain disruption and soaring inflation in recent times.

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The event was held through a collaboration between the York & North Yorkshire Growth Hub in conjunction with Made Smarter and The Yorkshire Post and it provided a rare opportunity for sector leaders to meet and find common ground.

The roundtable acted as a sounding board for manufacturing companiesThe roundtable acted as a sounding board for manufacturing companies
The roundtable acted as a sounding board for manufacturing companies

The passion and ambition of all the participants was palpable. But they also gave vent to frustrations about the factors beyond their control that were holding their business back.

In particular, many questioned whether the education system was serving the needs of industry.

Alan Pickering, the managing director of manufacturing company Unison, said: “There is a disconnect between what business needs and what education currently delivers. A lot of the science and engineering equipment in schools has hardly changed from 40 years ago.”

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He said the UTC in Scarborough had been established to help solve some of these problems. He added: “There is also fragmentation and lack of continuity within government business advisers to the point you don’t know who to go to anymore.”

Jo Young, the managing director Additive-Ltd, called for more collaboration within her sector to make it more competitive.

She added: "Where organisations like this exist, they typically work well using the universities to help improve outreach to SMEs and accelerate adoption of digital technologies."

Ms Young said parents and educators also needed to be encouraged to have a more positive view of the manufacturing sector.

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Andrew Forshaw, the finance director of Marshalls Slingsby Advanced Composites, said finding staff with specialist skills could be a challenge, particularly in a rural location, because they don't come ready made. However, the company had achieved some success in persuading staff to relocate to its base in Kirkbymoorside, as well as making significant investment in training people in-house.

He added: "Uncertainty around the supply chain is a challenge as well, in terms of price increases, lead-times and availability of materials."

The war in Ukraine, has however provided opportunities for companies like Marshalls Slingsby, which produces complex composite structures for sectors including defence.

Without a thriving manufacturing sector, the UK’s economy cannot take off. Schools and colleges have a vital role to play. We need to move away from the dated ‘rags and spanners’ view of the sector and encourage more young people to see at first hand the types of lucrative roles available in a modern manufacturing business. This enlightened approach must be combined with targeted Government support for research and development to ensure the UK’s manufacturers stay ahead of their overseas competitors.

Greg Wright is the deputy business editor of The Yorkshire Post