An awful lot of talk of late in the UK has come from politicians regarding the need to ‘rebalance’ the economy away from its previous emphasis on the financial sector to a more manufacturing-led society.
We all know very well what the reliance on the financial services sector led to two years ago – the reverberations of the economic meltdown continue to be felt – so ‘rebalancing’ UK PLC back to more traditional ways to earn a living are to be applauded.
But it’s one thing saying rebalance and quite another doing it. Fine words from politicians – and they do love using that ‘rebalance’ as if it’s as easy as clicking your fingers – are all very well but when British coffers are as threadbare as they are it is a tall order to revert back to what the UK used to be very good at.
But it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. A recent programme on the BBC – the Brits – on the whole – still make good television programmes – recently highlighted just how much the UK still manufactures – dissipating the myth we have become simply a conduit for unimaginably large amounts of money to be traded across the financial powerhouses of the globe.
This was vividly brought home to me this week with a visit to body-in-white Tier 1 supplier Stadco – who were proudly showing off their shiny new plant in Telford – itself acquired from Ogihara‘s stamping facility earlier this year.
With the opening, Stadco is creating around 50 full-time positions in addition to the 183 jobs started across the group during the past 12 months as the operation supplies the ever-more successful Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, GM and BMW among other OEMs.
Creating 50 jobs may not sound huge, but for a town the size of Telford, it’s another crucial piece in the economic rebuilding of the UK as the country emerges – painfully slowly – from the worst recession virtually anyone in living memory can remember.
It sounds obvious but Stadco makes things. Components that are of genuine importance to companies who are slowly themselves starting to get back on their feet.
But as Stadco manager director Dermot Sterne made clear to me at the Telford site, part of the challenge he and his company face, is enthusing, particularly young, people about the benefits of manufacturing as opposed to looking with starry eyes at the vast fortunes seemingly able to be earned in the finance sectors.
So the company has put its hand in its pocket and is funding up to six apprenticeships – with guaranteed jobs at the end of it – in a bid to address the pressing need for skilled engineers who will drive the business forward.
“The most important [thing] is skills development – it may not help my bottom line next year but it definitely will in five year’s time,” he told just-auto. “I don’t want to get to a retirement party and see all our skills retiring that year.
“We are aiming to get four [apprentices] this year working with technical colleges – this is a fantastic way of getting people into the industry.”
From small acorns and all that, but if Stadco’s stance could be replicated across countless other initiatives, the UK would benefit hugely and not have to look with such envious glances at the manufacturing colossus that is currently Germany.
It’s also worth remembering Stadco’s sales and marketing director Dinos Andreou’s stark words during the same visit this week when he outlined the scale of restructuring needed to haul the company back from a bleak outlook.
“We needed to take some pretty firm action – we lost 40% of our direct workforce and removed layers of management,” he said. “All of our focus was about survival.”
Stadco has survived and some. If the UK government could put its money where its mouth is with the rebalancing it constantly talks about, British manufacturing would have a timely boost.
And could Stadco envisage enlarging its manufacturing portfolio? “There is a lot of talk about encouraging companies to diversify, but it is not for us,” said Sterne.
“We are about focusing on what we do and doing it better and better every day.”