Sector trends

Making manufacturing a diverse and rewarding career

Make UK held the first National Manufacturing Day recently. The UK-wide Open House event offered a chance to celebrate the vital and innovative work of the country’s makers.

Between now and 2024, Engineering UK estimates we need 65,000 new engineers each year in the UK. To continue to punch above its weight, the manufacturing sector needs a pipeline of talent from schools and college, as Chris Corkan of industry body Make UK explained. 

“Our research shows that unfulfilled manufacturing job vacancies is costing between £7.7bn and £8.3bn so far in 2022, an eye-watering £21m a day in lost output for the UK economy. 

“During the incredibly challenging environment of the pandemic, the government delivered a series of business support measures to support manufacturing and the overall economy. Helping the sector bounce back and reach more normal trading levels.  

“To further tap into the growth, agility and resilience that Britain’s manufacturers have shown over the last two years, imaginative solutions are needed to make sure full potential is reached.”

UK manufacturing: growth potential

  • Data from Make UK has found that over half of manufacturers (52%) are planning to grow their business by over 20% in the next five years
  • Around a quarter (24%) intend to expand their business by up to 20% and one in five (18%) have plans to grow by up to 10%
  • By growing their business, one in five (21%) said employment would increase by over 20%
  • Nearly one in five (19%) said staff numbers would grow by up to 20% and a third (35%) said employment would increase by up to 10%

Source: Make UK, ‘Manufacturing: State of the Industry, the Potential for Growth’ (7 July 2022)

Taking the apprenticeship route

Always keen to support the promotion of UK manufacturing, precision engineers A&M EDM hosted an event as part of Make UK’s National Manufacturing Day. We joined them – and the local students they invited – to learn more about their growth story.

A&M’s facility in the West Midlands is a modern manufacturing success story: founded 20 years ago, the company has grown from humble beginnings on a single site in Smethwick to become a provider of bespoke engineering services to clients both in the UK and abroad. 

From automotive and aerospace to marine and motorsport, the company designs and manufactures precision-tooled bespoke products across two sites, for a whole range of clients, and employs more than 70 full-time staff. Its workforce combines experienced engineers and craftsmen with younger workers who have taken advantage of the opportunities offered through apprenticeships to drive the business forward.  

Students from two local schools – Shireland Collegiate Academy and Sandwell Academy – were given a tour of the factory. They quizzed apprentices on how they’d managed their progress from school leavers to experienced CNC line managers in a fast-growing and innovative engineering business. 

Pat McFadden, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said: “The UK excels at making great products and A&M EDM is a great example of a company doing exactly that. They have built up a great reputation as a supplier and as an employer and they are a vital part of the manufacturing ecosystem in the West Midlands.

“Politicians have a duty to be interested in the creation of wealth and in supporting great British companies like this."

We’re keen to open the doors to the local community to demonstrate how manufacturing is a sector that offers enormous opportunities for young people

Philip Calcutt

A&M currently employs seven apprentices training for level 3 or HNC qualifications and has offered contracts to three more apprentices starting in August. Apprentices not only get the benefit of a paying job straight out of school; they also develop skills that can set them up for a long career in a whole range of manufacturing fields. Ben Jolly is one of A&M’s recent apprentices and answered questions from the school groups.

Ben said: “You get experience and knowledge of the processes and systems – which you can take to other jobs. You get a college qualification that helps you in the future. And, while you start off knowing nothing, by the end you end up earning and learning as you go.”

Tom Bruce, Head of Department for Design and Technology at Shireland Collegiate Academy, said more students were considering the apprenticeship route, making experiential days like this one invaluable. 

“We’re proud of the growth we’ve achieved here,” said Philip Calcutt from A&M. “We’re keen to open the doors to the local community to demonstrate how manufacturing is a sector that offers enormous opportunities for young people to develop skills, learn on the job, drive innovation, as well as earn a salary above the national average.”

Business case study: A&M

Since 2018, the company has invested over £3m in a variety of cutting-edge technical equipment, including 3D scanners, spark eroders, laser calibration, metal analysers, CNC mills and a CNC turning centre. 

An emphasis on innovation and technology is vital, according to founder Mark Wingfield. He believes the company’s success has been forged on its ability to quickly pivot and adapt production techniques to meet customer needs. It needs a bank that understands the unique challenges and dynamics of the sector. 

“To source the equipment we require, we often need to move quickly,” he explained. “And because of the length of the relationship we’ve had with both Lombard and NatWest, we can pick up the phone and talk to them, and they listen and respond.”

It’s so important to have the right finance and skills in the business in order to deliver

Melvin Wingfield
Founder, A&M

Having helped the business by providing access to a significant line of credit, last October Lombard was once again at the table with the A&M leadership as the company looked to bring forward the purchase of capital equipment. “The classic case is when, at the end of our financial year, we look at the figures and we need to spend some money, it means that we need to get the finance in place quickly,” said Mark.

The specialised nature of A&M’s work – delivering precision, bespoke orders for demanding clients – requires the business to be responsive to fluid market dynamics. Recent events – from the pandemic to the war in Ukraine – have had instant impacts on customers, so retaining the agility to react to changing circumstances is vital.

“We know our customers need us to turn things around quickly and with quality as standard,” said Mark. “It’s so important to have the right finance and skills in the business in order to deliver.” 

Make UK: helping to change perceptions of manufacturing

Make UK takes a three-pronged approach to showcasing the amazing opportunities for reskilling and career development within manufacturing in the UK:

  1. Encourage and educate the next generation in schools and colleges
  2. Engage with friends and family to demystify the manufacturing process
  3. Open up to the local community and illustrate work being made on their doorstep

The impact of the pandemic and conflict in Ukraine have led to a greater appetite for reshoring: bringing manufacturing closer to home to avoid the potential delays and disruptions currently bedevilling global supply chains. 

“‘Just in time’ won’t really cut it any more,” said Philip. “It’s not surprising that UK manufacturers are experiencing an increase in volume as work returns to these shores.”

Find out more about how NatWest supports the manufacturing sector.

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