In recent times, British manufacturing has come under increasing pressure to help boost the UK’s economy. Mike Norfield, CEO of Team Telecom Group argues that government action to support research and development must happen sooner rather than later.
You don’t need to be an economist to know that UK plc is in a tough place and it’s British manufacturing that is being tasked with getting us out of this economic gloom.
At present the government’s ‘March of the Makers’ push on manufacturing seems to be marching uphill with the weight of the UK’s national debt on its shoulders. The possibility of the 1,400 jobs earmarked for the axe at Bombardier’s plant in Derby, Britain’s last remaining train factory, would be a major blow at any time, let alone the current economic climate. So what exactly do we need from those in Westminster if they won’t commit to UK contracts?
In my mind two things are key – make it easier to finance investment in cutting edge R&D (research and development) to help our manufacturers get an edge in the global market, and to ensure we have the right skills in place to develop and deliver these products.
In a competitive global market the only way for British manufacturers to compete is to constantly research and develop new products and technologies. We cannot – as a high usage economy – compete on price, therefore the ability to have technically advanced goods and solutions is integral to our success. However, we have to continually be investing in R&D in order to deliver them.
A key concern for anyone involved in manufacturing is the lack of engineers in the UK. Those we have got are some of the best in the world, but they are ageing so where does that leave us for the future? The answer, put simply, is in trouble. British manufacturing can’t compete in any market – domestic or international – if we don’t have the skills to continually develop and operate the cutting edge technology needed for success in a competitive global market.
With growing concerns from business leaders about the quality of some university courses and their ability to equip young people with the right skills for the job, we need the government to listen and act fast.
Apprenticeships are one of the best examples and as a country we need to start recognising the skills and experience that a good apprenticeship can provide. We need to be more innovative and dynamic in the way we deliver apprenticeships to our educational system to ensure we develop the talent of the future.
With UK manufacturing seen as key for future economic growth, the government must take a hard look at the issues of R&D and education. If we fail to invest, Britain will lack both the technology and the skills to have any impact on the global stage. It needs us all – government, banks and businesses – to pull together to make this happen. The government may think they have this issue resolved but the reality is there’s still a long way to go.