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Manufacturing needs skills development to boost UK economy, national debate hears

They have welcomed the government’s decision to focus on boosting manufacturing and have called on ministers to enourage more from innovation, to focus on best practice and to attract and retain the best and brightest talent to the sector.

The annual National Manufacturing Debate, held at Cranfield University last month, highlighted skills as one of the top challenges for the sector.

This included attracting new talent in to the sector and ensuring relevant training for existing practitioners, particularly management.

Among the speakers was David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science. In his address, he identified skills as one of the three core areas for improvements. 

Fellow speaker Ian Waddell, national officer for the trade union Unite, told delegates: "The UK is world-class in many areas of advanced manufacturing and there are encouraging signs that industrial strategy is now being taken seriously by government. 

"However, we must act now to ensure that manufacturing continues to grow and thrive, taking action to tackle systemic problems in our finance, education and political systems that hold industry back.”

Warren East, former chief executive of technology exporter ARM Holding, added: " Britain has some of the most creative engineers on the planet. As industry and manufacturing becomes increasingly global, our opportunity lies in harnessing that creativity and ingenuity to capture an increasingly valuable slice of worldwide supply chains though increasing productivity of whole industry ecosystems. "

Mr Willets welcomed a surge in students studying A-level science courses and a subsequent increase in students choosing science-based subjects at degree level.

In addition, he noted the importance of government’s High Value Manufacturing Catapults and highlighted the £1.1 billion per annum ring-fenced for funding science research and development.

The eight-strong debate panel of representatives from industry, government, academia and the press agreed on two key areas that need action in order for the sector to improve productivity.

Mark Jolly, Professor of Sustainable Manufacturing at Cranfield, said: “It is the responsibility of us all to encourage the younger generations to consider the opportunities manufacturing offers as a career. We need to start talking on twitter and to friends and colleagues”.

The panel also noted that manufacturers are all talking about similar issues but that there is a lack of joined up discussions. If the sector were able to speak with ‘one voice’, more notice may be taken at government level.