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Investing in the ‘High Value’ manufacturing economy

17 October 2011

The annual technology networking event organised by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) – Innovate 2011 – was buzzing last week; and not a whiff of recession as eager start-ups and established hi-tech firms, consultants and funding agencies put their heads together in a warren of seminar rooms and exhibition booths at London’s Business Design Centre. Even business secretary Vince Cable took time out of his hectic schedule to descend on the event bearing news of new funding for UK hi-tech enterprise.

A further £15m cash injection into low-carbon vehicle development was promised, but that wasn’t all. Some £18m has been earmarked by the TSB in association with Scottish Enterprise for business-focussed research and development projects in various areas, from advanced materials to ICT, and even the space industry gets a look-in with an - albeit modest - £8.5m for satellite communications and advanced sensor systems. More significant, perhaps, was an announcement that the first Technology and Innovation Centre for high value manufacturing (HVM) had opened for business. Some £140m will be invested over six years to steer UK manufacturing in the direction of HVM and help reduce the risks that companies take when embarking on new and innovative manufacturing technologies.

The first of at least six Technology and Innovation Centres (TICs) that the government has pledged to set up by April 2013, the Centre for HVM will capitalise on existing centres of expertise in the UK, including the Advanced Forming Research Centre (University of Strathclyde); the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (University of Sheffield); the Centre for Process Innovation (Wilton and Sedgefield); the Manufacturing Technology Centre (Coventry); the National Composites Centre (University of Bristol); the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Universities of Manchester and Sheffield), and last but by no means least, the Warwick Manufacturing Group (University of Warwick).

The CBI's head of Innovation, Science and Technology, Tim Bradshaw welcomed the new financial package for UK manufacturing, in particular the commitment to fund the manufacturing TIC for six years, saying this will secure its future well beyond the current spending review period, giving business the confidence to collaborate with some of the UK's leading manufacturing research centres.

The Engineering Employers' Federation's director of policy, Steve Radley also welcomed the announcement, but warned that with economic headwinds increasing, manufacturers will need to hear more from government soon if they are to make the investment needed to drive the economy. Looking forward to the Autumn Statement, he wants the government to set out a coherent strategy and package of measures that will deliver stronger investment, growth and job creation.

Both organisations warmed to another initiative which kicked off last week to lure young people into manufacturing careers. The campaign, ‘See Inside Manufacturing’, first mooted by Vince Cable back in March, is currently being piloted by the automotive sector, and around 100 events have been, or are about to be held, across the UK up until the end of this week.

Clearly delighted that his sector had been chosen to kick start the campaign, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) chief executive, Paul Everitt said the scope and scale of the UK’s automotive sector presented fantastic career and skills opportunities for young people. "More than 700,000 people are employed across design, engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, aftermarket and retail sectors and UK engineers and executives are increasingly filling top jobs around the world," he said. "Despite challenging economic conditions, October’s activities demonstrate the opportunities available and industry’s commitment to attracting the brightest and best talent to the sector.”

In total, over 20 automotive companies across the UK, including Aston Martin, Bentley, Ford, GKN Driveline, Jaguar Land Rover, Leyland Trucks, the Millbrook Proving Ground and Nissan, are opening their doors to graduates and school children, offering a range of hands-on activities, designed to highlight the career opportunities within one of the UK’s most diverse and vibrant industry sectors.

“For too many young people the word manufacturing is a turn off,” says Vince Cable, referring to the results of what he calls a “worrying poll” published by Siemens last week, which found that only one out of ten children aged 11 to 14 thought that engineering was an important job - even ranking being a politician as a better choice of career!

“We are determined to shake up old fashioned views of manufacturing and through government's ‘See Inside Manufacturing’ campaign and the overwhelming support from the automotive industry, we will give young people the chance to see the exciting face of modern manufacturing, which is highly skilled, high tech and highly paid.”

For a timetable of the remaining ‘See Inside Manufacturing’ events, click here, and for an overview of the campaign, click here.

Les Hunt

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