The Yorkshire and Humber region has a long history in manufacturing and engineering and (despite the impression sometimes given these days), the region still has many successful businesses in these sectors. It's important to remember that although there is a lot of media attention on financial services, manufacturing still contributes more to the country´s GDP (12% versus 9%).
Last Friday, I attended the Dods "Yorkshire 2012 and beyond" conference, at the Leeds Metropolitan University. The conference looked at what can be done to generate economic growth in the region. I participated in a panel on international transport links (rather appropriate for someone who travels from Leeds to Brussels by train most weeks...).
During this event, I spoke to a representative of the glass industry, who informed me that his sector had some problems recruiting, particularly getting young people to enter the industry. The age structure of some companies (too many workers retiring in the near future) means that bringing in new young recruits is very important for long term workforce planning. The representative reminded me that careers in manufacturing are not just on the production front, manufacturers also need people to do marketing, finance, human resources etc.
The previous weekend, I had the had the pleasure of attending the 60th anniversary celebrations of Cummins Turbo Technologies, a world leading manufacturer of turbochargers whose UK operations are primarily based in Huddersfield. The company began life as Holset Engineering in 1952 set up by a Mr Holmes and a Mr Croset and was bought by Cummins in 1973.
On offer to visitors were tours of the research and development facilities and the production line, engineering themed games and puzzles for children, a film of the history of the company, a brass band, a rock band, a bouncy castle, and pie and peas for lunch (good Yorkshire food!).
I was taken on a tour by Dr Dave Green, Director of Engineering who was an excellent tour guide. Thanks to Dave I can quite honestly say I have a far greater appreciation of the world of turbo chargers than I did before. For the uninitiated, turbo chargers are an integral part of diesel engines and in the case of Cummins' products, go in cars, vans, trucks, tractors and power generators all over the world.
Cummins is a global company with 1,100 of its staff based in Huddersfield, where the company's global research and development and European manufacturing takes place. The company naturally recruits many engineers to work at its Huddersfield site, although Dr Green informed me there are not always enough UK candidates, so the company has to go further afield to other European countries and even India and China to recruit sufficient engineers. With future recruitment in mind, the company goes into local schools to encourage children to think of a career in engineering and works closely with nearby universities with engineeing faculties including Huddersfield and Bradford.
My conversations in recent weeks seem to indicate that not enough young people in the region are considering careers in manufacturing and engineering, despite highly successful companies that are able to offer good career prospects. It seems amazing that this is happening at time of very high youth unemployment. The government´s recently launched apprenticeship scheme is one way that this trend can be reversed, but it is too soon to evaluate its success right now.
I would be curious to hear the views of others on how we can encourage young people in our region to go into manufacturing and engineering.