Manufacturing has been a fantastic career for me. I have visited and worked in countries that I could only have dreamed of when I was younger and I have worked on projects that have made a real difference to people’s lives and the way we live.
Manufacturing has also given me a relatively good standard of living for more than 30 years – but throughout that time I have been constantly hearing that the sector has a poor reputation.
Summits have been held and conferences have taken place. The consistent conclusion is that manufacturing has a poor reputation and something should be done about it. Nothing really appears to have changed since I started as an apprentice with Lucas back in the 1970’s.
Many people in the sector are calling on politicians to do something about it – but should we be relying on politicians?
Engineers are problem solvers. Are we so busy solving the challenges of modern technology that we cannot solve the reputation problem of our own profession? How can we help ourselves?
There are many initiatives taking place nationally and there is no way that I want to undermine the efforts of the many people who share my passion for manufacturing. Rather, I want to look at practical ways in which we can encourage younger people into the sector so they can enjoy the benefits it brings.
Although I am still very much working in manufacturing my focus at Arvada is on strategy and marketing, I have therefore tried to take a look at the issue from a marketing perspective. How can we deliver the manufacturing message in a way that encourages the next generation to consider engineering as a positive career choice and improve the standing of engineers in our society?
Now that manufacturing is back in vogue it is important that we embrace this new found popularity and set about building a solid foundation for the sector in the UK. Despite the high numbers of apprentices entering the sector we still face a significant skill shortage due to the massive void that has built up since the mid 1980s. It is therefore essential that we not only get the younger generations interested and engaged in engineering, we need to be focusing on more mature generations too.
Some of the things we can consider doing are as follows:
- Stop ‘devaluing’ ourselves: The number of meetings I attend when manufacturers themselves say that manufacturing has a poor reputation is amazing. The more we say it the more that we (unconsciously) reinforce the message. That is how message re-enforcement works – everyone keeps saying the same thing over and over again until it becomes recognised as the norm. Let’s say positive things about manufacturing and engineering.
- Sell the sizzle not the steak: We need to highlight the personal benefits of working in manufacturing. We need to understand why people go to work and how we sell the profession. Do students choose accountancy because they want to work on spreadsheets all day or because it could give them a good lifestyle?
- Educate the educators: I wonder how many teachers have actually been into a modern manufacturing plant – and, importantly, how many have actually been invited. We should lobby to make this a part of their training.
- Emphasise the integrity of the profession: Every day we all put our lives in the hands of engineers and manufactured products – the car we drive, the aeroplane we travel on, the electricity we use, etc. We are able to take for granted many things in everyday life only because someone has made sure it is safe for us to do so.
- Remind other professions that they depend upon manufacturing: Most of the things we insure are manufactured or made from manufactured products – would there be an insurance industry without manufacturing? The entertainment industry would not exist without recording and broadcasting technology. Practically no-one could work in the modern world without the technology that sits on their desks. We should be reminding people of this.
- Discover an icon: Professor Brian Cox has made physics ‘sexy’. We need a similar ‘icon’ for manufacturing.
- Work with the educators: Excellent work is taking place in universities and colleges but we should be asking if more could be done. I have seen some fantastic initiatives recently, particularly associated with ‘imagineering’ and ‘fabrication laboratories’ that engage with young people in a practical and inspiring way. We should be working to bring schools and industry together to make this happen nationally.
- Start explaining acronyms: One of the most productive meetings I had recently was when, working on behalf of the local LEP, I met with NSCCI, SSCCI, MAS & MITM where we discussed STEM, SEMTA, RGF, BIS, AMSCI and UKTI. We now appear to have an acronym for everything. This is fine if we explain what they mean but people are now using them in everyday conversation, assuming that everyone knows what they mean.
I could go on, but the point is that applying a little ‘marketing think’ to engineering would help to attract and retain the brightest and best people (of all ages) that are needed to rebuild the UK manufacturing sector.