When we think about manufacturing in the UK, more often than not it’s the Rolls-Royce and GlaxoSmithKline’s of the world that tend to grab the headlines. However, when you dig a little deeper, it’s easy to see that a mini-revolution is underway amongst smaller manufacturers.
Gone are the traditional products of 20 years ago; heavy duty metal bashing has largely been replaced by fast-moving, clean tech and aerospace innovation and it’s often the smaller manufacturers that are leading the way. It’s exactly this kind of innovation that we need to keep UK manufacturing competitive and it’s exactly this kind of ‘corporate spirit’ that is attracting more and more people into smaller firms.
But hang on a minute… doesn’t this go against everything we know about careers in the manufacturing space? For years, the average graduate has wanted to invest their university education into a stable career, with an established support network and career paths to help them on their way. This has been the norm for so long but the tide is turning. The excitement, entrepreneurial spirit and faster-moving nature of smaller firms is proving very attractive to new talent who want to work in a more creative, less traditionally corporate environment and carve their own career path.
As well as talent attraction, the issue of retention also needs addressing. In the past, many manufacturing professionals after a number of years became concerned with the apparent lack of direction and momentum in their roles. This perceived loss of opportunity has resulted in many professionals leaving bigger firms to either take on contract roles or to take up jobs overseas. But why haven’t they considered smaller firms within the UK? It’s fair to say that many SMEs haven’t been great at self-promotion in the past but they do actually hold the key to both incubating new talent and maximising existing talent.
New talent can kick-start their careers and existing talent can choose to diversify their skill sets by going to work for smaller firms in a different part of the supply chain. They could also transfer their existing skills to a fast-growing space such as clean tech or biotechnology, which tend to be smaller firms.
Undoubtedly, many of the accelerators needed to push UK manufacturing to greater heights will be anchored in the manufacturing activities of our SMEs and it’s the skilled talent who’ll chiefly be responsible for delivering such a capability. In the future, SMEs could well be the most exciting and progressive environment to develop a manufacturing career in.