What another year for the EEF, manufacturers organisation conference, or should I say MAKE UK as one of the many things that came out of a busy and interesting day was the rebranding of the organisation. Stephen Phipson, CEO and Chair of MAKE UK started the day off by reminding the UK manufacturing industry that we have been at the heart of manufacturing through the good and the bad times.
He said: “We are now on the brink of the fourth industrial revolution which brings changes and we need to concentrate on up-skilling and up-scaling, because yes there will be difficult challenges ahead but we are more than capable of coping.”
With Brexit quickly looming upon us next month it’s safe to say there was a lot of people in the room that particularly came for answers and reassurance, and although the day was a success, the only answer we got is that no one knows what is to come but the manufacturing industry will be supported – obviously this put a lot of people’s mind to rest.
The day took quite a political route in some ways, with Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn both taking to the stage. But the most impactful speech from the day in my opinion came from Andre Neil, Journalist and Broadcaster who stated that right now we are living in a political pantomime. “We use to live in a society where class and upbringing based our political decisions and now Brexit is the change in that voting behaviour.”
He continued by saying that politics is being remade. “Politics is now dominated by parties that don’t address everyone, just the core of its party, so it has become a battle of the cores. They all want to control businesses, and that is not exactly business friendly.”
For the manufacturing industry it feels as though both political parties have a lot to answer for blame Neil added. “It seems we are giving up all the benefits of remaining without actually gaining benefits of leaving.”
The real issues we need to be fighting between economies is all the technologies that will very soon be a reality such as AI, robotics and automated manufacturing, not Brexit.
Phipson, in terms of Brexit added: “We need to keep repeating ourselves and communicating with the politicians about Brexit through a high level of engagement.”
Manufacturing does really matter in this country, as Phipson outlined the importance of the UK being the ninth largest manufacturer in the world. “Normally our priority is skill, but not right now – it’s Brexit. Our aim as an industry and organisation is to make the Government understand the impact of their decisions on our sector.”
The name change Phipson explained is to represent more about what the organisation stands for, and also to make it more attractive for younger people. “The manufacturing sector is really important for this country, but do you know what is the most important? The people, so MAKE UK is about being together to make it happen, and to encourage the next generation.”
Clark when he spoke expanded more on the recent news of the Honda Swindon branch closing: “Swindon has done so much for manufacturing in its time, it has always been a good town for manufacturing.” He added that to everyone affected the message is that the Government does value your skill and work and it will do everything to help.
From this Clark said: “This sort of organisation, I can’t thank and express the importance of it enough, as thanks to the EEF, we have allowed manufacturers a time period after Brexit to adjust. We are determined to continue to listen and work with the manufacturing industry as you are crucial for the UK.”
One main aim for the future is to make sure even smaller companies have access to cutting edge technologies, and it’s not just always the giants being prioritised. Clark added: “Today just proves we should be proud of the world class manufacturing talent we produce in the UK, and we need to make the UK synonymous with the fourth industrial revolution like we did with the first.”
As I said, the day had a ‘maintain high morale’ feeling to it, which was overpowered by a political theme. Corbyn took to the stage to say: “Manufacturing is essential and so important to the country, as it encourages a pool of artists, but like artists manufacturing needs the right circumstances to work. These include: skill, infrastructure and the right trade platform.” He elaborated by explaining the Labour party with tackle all three.
He also tried to reassure the crowd by stating that we know industries are made, as old industries are collapsing, technological advancement can bring prosperity, but can create anxiety too. “We need to make sure we are giving people skills to flourish, and these skills should be learnt whenever. If we learn everything at the beginning of our lives, skills become outdated. We need to make sure no one worries about technology again, as we work with it not against it.”
Phipson explained that skills is still the number one issue for this sector, so thanked everyone in attendance as the conference can really accelerate this. Throughout the day the organisation ran a number of different talks and workshops, one of which included the ‘Generation Z’ workshop in which students from college, universities, and apprenticeships came to discuss what they think needs to be done to attract in the younger generation, and what difficulties they find from the sector, with the professionals and business owners in the industry.
It was safe to say this workshop was a huge success in engaging both the younger and older generation, as Phipson concluded: “Let’s hope today’s success is the first step introducing many more women into this sector, the Prime Minister is always asking me how I’m going to do this! Hopefully the generation Z work shop today is another step for this!”