Forging a bright future

“Today is the great age of engineering and talent. East Anglia’s manufacturing and engineering sector has a bright future” observes Jamie Thums, Chairman of New Anglia Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (NAAME)

A “Top 100 Manufacturing Figure”, Chair of the New Anglia Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (NAAME) sector group, and Chief Operating Officer of Lintott Control Systems Limited, Jamie speaks to Ellen Rossiter about the region’s manufacturing and engineering industry.

“Some 84,000 people are employed in the sector across Norfolk and Suffolk, which has an annual economic value of £5.1 bn. This makes the manufacturing and engineering sector one of the largest in the region.

“It reflects and taps into the region’s diverse economic strengths; with links into the supply chain of specialisms across: Agriculture and Food Production; Aerospace and Aviation; Transport and Automotive; Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences; as well as Energy.

“The UK remains one of the world’s great manufacturing nations and has much to offer. However, greater emphasis can do much to help advance the country’s manufacturing and engineering capabilities and we need policymakers to help.

“Engineering innovation can help yield much needed productivity improvement. Such proficiency exists throughout the UK and it is prevalent in Norfolk and Suffolk. It’s vital that we don’t lose sight of this and place too much focus on the south of the country.

“Whilst it’s getting better, regional businesses require improved connectivity, namely broadband and road infrastructure. Such developments of course require financing, but that’s why greater productivity is so important: The greater our productivity; the greater our ability to build and invest in our future.”

Embracing technology

“The Made Smarter Review, chaired by Juergen Maier, CEO Siemens UK, set out how the adoption of Industrial Digital Technology (IDT) can transform businesses. The region has a raft of digital pioneers and it has a vibrant, digital creative sector, which businesses can tap into. But it doesn’t stop there. The up-and-coming Institute of Productivity, located at the University of East Anglia (UEA) with funding from New Anglia LEP, will seek to develop the next generation of digitally aware engineers and business leaders.

“The report cited that the spread and adoption of digital technologies must quicken. Technology such as robotics, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality, as well as artificial intelligence, all have a part to play in the transformation.”

Here Jamie speaks from experience. Back in 2012, he, David Owen and existing director Mark Davy, took a controlling interest in Lintott Control Systems Ltd. Fast forward some seven years, the company has been reinvented and is multi-award winning. Jamie apportions this to embracing every opportunity to digitally connect the business whilst simultaneously developing and tapping into the talent and creativity of Lintott’s people.

Jamie emphasises that being transparent with the workforce from the outset and engaging them in the process was crucial in reviving the business. Issues were identified and processes were redesigned, led by personnel who became the change champions. Fuelled by digital connectivity and the removal of wasteful activities, the business has reduced lead-times, improved quality and positively influenced employee morale.

Developing leaders

An engaged workforce, led by leaders who inspire and support them, is vital for galvanising greater productivity, but what makes a good leader?

“Good leaders have excellent listening skills and seek to develop people and creative thinking” explains Jamie. “Too many under achieve in such necessity.”

“I believe a cornerstone to improving productivity is the development of a tapestry of employee-based provision. This extends beyond training and includes mental health and wellbeing. Good health and well-being are core enablers of employee engagement and subsequently organisational performance.

“People deserve good leaders. I fear that the UK is not sufficiently adept at developing leaders who truly engage and inspire the workforce. Moreover, the simple things go a long way: respect, fairness and feeling valued. People also benefit from clarity. All too often communication is ineffective and autonomy in local decision making is lack-lustre.”

Keeping people at the heart

“Lintott’s ability to continuously improve is only possible because the company continually develops its people capital. This isn’t something any business should be afraid of.

“Growing up, I wanted to be an engineer. I was fascinated by how things worked and would take things apart and put them back together again, with differing degrees of success! Starting work on the factory floor, I worked my way through an apprenticeship. Thereafter and whilst working, I studied for a degree, and I will shortly begin a post-graduate research project. None of this would have been possible without supportive employers and mentors.

“Tailored training, reward and good management are the stimulus which helps employees to stick around. I’ve benefited from such provision and I’m committed to supporting others in their endeavours.

“I understand that some people are wary about the prospect of digital technologies replacing jobs. Whilst this is changing the landscape, jobs increasingly require greater skills, therefore this presents both a challenge and an opportunity.

“There is a huge demand for engineers and technicians in the UK. A significant percentage of the workforce is due to retire over the next few years, people are leaving the industry and further opportunities are opening up as a result of newly created jobs, resulting in a critical shortfall of engineers. The demand for people with key engineering skills is simply not being met. Yet this demand also represents a huge opportunity.”

“Around 124,000 engineers and technicians with key engineering skills will be required each year to meet demand, but at the moment there is a shortfall of between 37,000 and 59,000 annually.”

Bridging the skills gap

“Sadly, a rather outdated, fusty image of manufacturing and engineering persists, but the contemporary workplace is a precise, fast-moving digital environment, with talent and innovation at its centre.

“Changing the outdated perception and inspiring the next generation of budding engineers and technicians is crucial to our prosperity and future. This extends to working with schools to ensure young people recognise the plethora of opportunities to positively impact the world by engineering and making things better.

“Business itself can do more to help address the skills shortage. This includes more businesses linking with academia and civic partners in identifying and addressing the challenges ahead.

“The Institute of Productivity being forged at the UEA will provide a regional hub where engineering and manufacturing businesses can learn about and adopt new practices, tools and techniques. The Institute will also take a hand in training the next generation of engineers, enrolling 1,268 new engineering learners within the first five years.

“Whilst over at the Norwich University of the Arts (NUA), much emphasis is placed on equipping their graduates with the skills required for the job market. They’ve been listening to local businesses about the challenges they face, supporting emerging industries and ensuring graduates have the digital skills vital to fuel the future.”

Moving forward

“Businesses need to get the blend and implementation of skills and digital technologies right, placing people at the heart of their businesses and investing in them. Better leaders, a skilled workforce and digital technologies all have a part to play in ensuring East Anglia plays an increasingly important role in manufacturing and engineering across the UK and beyond.”

Previous articleThe road to logistics
Next articleRoutes to innovation