Manufacturing in the Midlands – the UK’s industrial heartland – will be key to our post-pandemic economic recovery writes Dr Clive Hickman, CEO of the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and head of the Midlands Manufacturing Resilience Commission
For centuries the Midlands has been at the heart of manufacturing in the UK. Household names such as Land Rover, Cadbury and Rolls Royce are synonymous with the region. It is renowned for its world class institutions and universities, with their enviable reputations for engineering, and famously is the birthplace of the industrial revolution. As a proportion of jobs, 12 per cent are employed in manufacturing in the East Midlands and 11 per cent in the West, comparing favourably with eight per cent in the UK overall and only two per cent in London.
There is no doubt that manufacturing is in our DNA, but to thrive, the Midlands needs to develop a strategy that is both relevant and resilient for the long-term. The next phase in the life-cycle of Covid 19, even before ‘the recovery’ period, is a brief window where together we can generate the urgent, innovative thinking which will be needed to determine what this strategy should look like. So, to coin a phrase, there is an opportunity to catapult the sector to where it should belong in terms of jobs, investment and growth – continuing to make its historic contribution to the nation’s economy, and more.
As the chief executive of the MTC, an organisation which has demonstrated an ability to address problems which are often described as ‘wicked’, I am honoured to lead an ambitious Commission into Midlands Manufacturing Resilience (M2R), the launch of which was announced recently. I am also delighted that Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, will be its sponsor.
Across the Midlands we share a common belief in the potential for manufacturing, not just for our region, but for the nation as a whole to create skills, attract investment, and act as a base for the advanced research that will lead to the jobs of tomorrow. Strong relationships are crucial to our success, whether through our links to our network of SMEs, and their crucial role in the Midlands’ manufacturing landscape, or established collaborations with our excellent universities.
I grew up in the Black Country, an area so influenced by the Industrial Revolution, and manufacturing is in my blood. But now, more than ever, my passion for manufacturing is growing – the opportunities that it has to offer, and its place in our Midlands’ story, not just in the past, but in the future too.
Through the recent crisis we have seen the manufacturing sector perform at its best, including initiatives such as the Ventilator Challenge and the production of much needed PPE. We have solved all the problems that were presented to us, but acknowledge there are lessons to be learnt. How can we in the Midlands work together to maximise its impact, and develop a strategy that will put our region on the map, not only nationally, but also internationally?
How do we best embrace emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and digital manufacturing, new processes such as additive manufacturing, advanced laser processing or quantum manufacture, and what will transport look like as the day of the autonomous vehicle gets ever closer? In societal terms, what will all this mean for the ‘Future of Work’ and what that future will look like to you, your children and even your children’s children? We have a responsibility to shape this future.
My Commission will respond to these issues, but also to the increasingly competitive environment, both at home and abroad, with manufacturing at its core. It will focus on three objectives: reviewing the Midlands manufacturing landscape post-Covid; contributing to the creation of a wider Midlands Manufacturing Strategy, and developing recommendations to help build the Midlands’ manufacturing resilience and its subsequent positive and sustainable economic impact.
Over the next couple of months, we plan to investigate the barriers to rapid market ‘pivots’, and we will respond to a review of skills, R&D, investment, commercialisation – how to convert innovation into production, and other current initiatives such as the application of digital manufacturing technologies to improve productivity and wealth for our region.
Structural changes will be needed to ensure the long-term resilience of Midlands manufacturing, including our attractiveness and capacity to re-shore and the adoption of new technologies, which is why I am asking for as much participation as possible to produce the best outcome we can for the Midlands.
I am inviting contributions from across the region, to make the Commission as comprehensive and inclusive as possible; asking representatives from industry, academia and local government to put forward their suggestions, to meet virtually or physically when it is safe to do so, to discuss their views on the diverse range of issues driving our future.
If you wish to respond to this commission, please send your thoughts and views to M2RCommission@the-mtc.org. I look forward to leading this exciting but demanding process and delivering an ambitious Commission that will make a real and lasting difference.
In these challenging times, we must build on our strengths, our skills, and our heritage. Throughout my career, periods of change have created opportunities for the most agile. We need to respond in a similar way to the extraordinary challenges we are experiencing today. Let us in the Midlands be prepared to lead the way forward into that dynamic future.