Busting the myths about UK manufacturing

Leaders from finance industry and private equity investors kicked the day off at Nabarro’s Manufacturing Growth event by looking at the ways in which manufacturers are seeking out capital investment, and what realistically can be done to make sure they get it.

What turns a good company into an investible company? The answer was clear – growth prospects.

UK manufacturing companies need to adopt an international outlook far more quickly, according to Andrew Burton from YABA: “If it’s going to have growth prospects, it has to have international ambitions.”

His sentiments were echoed across the board with James Benfield, from Baird Private Equity pointing directly to the mid-market growth companies failing to seize global opportunities.

The message to manufacturers? Go global or set up a serious barrier to investment.

At the day-long Global Manufacturing Festival Convention, over 200 industry leaders gathered to here from speakers from companies including Boeing, Siemens VAI and TATA Steel.

In a direct demand on government, Juergen Maier of Siemens VAI urged Whitehall for better consistency in its policies and support structures for the industry and urged both government and business to adopt an improved investment culture.

He explained how frequent changes in policy cause barriers to growth in the sector and identified that “investment culture is the largest Achilles heel to UK manufacturing culture. We can’t just blame government and banks.”

Taking a similar view, Tim Wheeler from Boeing, commended the UK’s manufacturing and engineering sector for its technology, innovation, skills and reliability, stressing this as the country’s real competitive advantage.

“Manufacturing in the UK continues to transform itself to stay ahead in a highly competitive market and is an innovator of advanced products.”

He also praised the Sheffield Region’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC) saying that it has “created a fantastic global reputation.”  

Yet, the afternoon was devoted to skills-training and, perhaps more acturately, how to inspire a new wave of manufacturing talent. The elephant in the room was something less tangible than balance sheets and assets but one that has the potential to damage the industry’s legacy – reputation.

The manufacturing industry’s profile is one that is marred by misconceptions. Despite impressive growth and output figures, the industry is battling negative perceptions. These perceptions, that it is a dying industry which has poor career options, are holding back the young talent that is crucial in providing innovation and rejuvenation that investors are looking for.

The Global Manufacturing Festival: Sheffield is a week-long celebration of the manufacturing industry. The festival, in association with the Financial Times, The Manufacturer and EEF, brings together senior leaders from Boeing, Siemens UK, Tata Steel, Westinghouse, Proskills, Bloodhound, Virgin Formula 1, the Nuclear Industry Association and more to address key issues such as emerging international markets, the UK skills strategy for manufacturing, opportunities in the nuclear sector and the key growth area of advanced manufacturing. Events will be shaped around the key themes: education, celebration, improvement, innovation, community and growth.

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