Manufacturing some sense

9 May

I recently had the pleasure to take part in a round table discussion with 12 members of the manufacturing industry. Some were big players, major employers and international organisations; others were SMEs enjoying their say. It was a friendly environment of mutual understanding.

The first debate centred on the skills crisis in the manufacturing industry. There are simply not enough skilled or qualified youngsters coming through, and less in the way of apprenticeships. Manufacturing is suffering a severe skills shortage and they all want to help it turn the tide, with ideas, schemes and initiatives.

It was interesting to hear government statistics put into an industry’s perspective: that a rather small percentage of those apprenticeships promised by Downing Street would make it into manufacturing. And this, one of David Cameron’s “industries of the future.”

It was also heart-warming to hear the bosses and managers in the industry hold their hands up. I pointed out that, if education sets targets to get kids interested in engineering; that if teenagers want to learn and experience in good quality placements and go into full-time apprenticeships, then that doesn’t mean anything without avenues open to them. In my job as a Year 10 form teacher many moons ago, there were some perfect boys and girls for these types of experiences. But there was nowhere for them to go.

The second debate centred on health and safety. It made me smile inside, because the prediction came true: everyone had a disastrous health and safety story they were burning to tell. These chaps in India did this! Can you believe these guys in China were doing that?

I wanted to redress the balance slightly. We had started off by talking whether health and safety was a burden to productivity. What anyone had failed to point out clearly was the cost of not having health and safety. Uncountable and immeasurable. In fact, in a briefing today, our CEO was talking about targets, international sales and the volatile situations in some of the places the British Safety Council does its work. “I don’t care if we miss out target. Getting our man out of Libya was the right thing to do. Our workers are more important and I’m more than relaxed about those decisions if anyone asks.”

Nobody will ask, because she’s right.

Back in the debating room, it was reassuring to hear of inspections being a good thing, sharing best practices with SMEs happening; and that compliance keeps employers on top of their health and safety. But one thing to note was the consistency. If I am being inspected, why isn’t my neighbour? How do I get my subcontractors to the same standards as we are?

So, it’s not perfect, and I’m no manufacturing expert. But if these gents (for, alas, they all were) are taking the bull by the horns and making partnerships with schools and colleges, shouting loudly about the joys and offerings of engineering and the careers it holds; and then training their young workers well, keeping them healthy, safe and environmentally aware – then manufacturing is in safe hands.


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