21 August, 2018

A mature attitude towards the workforce

22 September, 2016

Many businesses employ a workforce that spans every feasible working age group. This can result in a varied and highly valuable experience dynamic, whereby the younger employees may on balance be more familiar with high-tech disciplines such as those related to IT (for example online business networking, computer-based remote diagnostics, e-commerce/Internet sales and marketing etc.), while the more mature staff may have a greater grasp of traditional trade skills (although one must of course not over-generalise). The main point is that workers of all ages have an important role to play in the modern workforce, and the more senior members of the team should not only be recognised as important and valued assets within the business, but also be suitably looked after to ensure they can go about their tasks in the most convenient and efficient fashion possible.

It’s all about relationships

18 August, 2016

In our May/June edition Editor’s Comment, we considered some of the arguments for the UK leaving or remaining in the EU.

The EU question

09 June, 2016

Ahead of the EU Referendum on 23 June, a number of insightful points on the topic were discussed during a lively panel discussion at the recently held BFPA AGM. With this in mind, I felt it timely to leave some of these views with you as you make up your minds as to which way you will vote on the day. The Association’s CEO, Chris Buxton, opened the debate by reminding the assembled of David Cameron’s speech to Chatham House in November last year during which the PM said “this is perhaps the most important decision the British people will have to take at the ballot box in our lifetimes”.

Keep safe

28 April, 2016

Within various manufacturing and engineering disciplines, as with many other professional pursuits, there are situations where the possibility of injury, or even death, increases. When working at height, it is of course important to adhere to a series of measures to ensure as best as possible that an unfortunate incident doesn’t occur. These measures should include, among other things, a general risk assessment based on the precise environment, equipment and circumstances involved, appropriate supervision, ensuring the work is only undertaken by trained personnel, and making sure that only regularly maintained equipment that is fit for the task is used.

The competitiveness factor

01 April, 2016

Manufacturers are motived by many business drivers. These are likely to include R&D and innovation; seeking to offer customers something that other companies cannot provide – whether that’s just a small but important tweak to something that is already established on the market, or something that is based more on ‘blue-skies’ thinking. A business could also have strong environmental aspirations – keen to set a high standard for other companies to follow in order to help mitigate the deleterious effect industry can have on our planet. But, of course, one of the most non-negotiable drivers has to be competitiveness. This is critical not just from the point of view of simply continuing to survive, but also in order to ensure a company is a strong and established player in its chosen market sector – producing quality goods while also having the ability to scale-up to meet increased demand for its products or services as and when necessary.

Train to maintain

25 February, 2016

As fluid power and motion control equipment becomes more sophisticated one might think that a need for a suitably advanced level of staff training is a non-negotiable. In the case of maintenance, for example, if a company doesn’t have the personnel to keep equipment in tip-top working condition it can hardly be surprised when it suffers costly and inconvenient periods of unpredicted downtime.

Take cover

01 December, 2015

Regardless of which profession people work in it is reasonable to assume that they will take the odd sick day off each year – although, as one might expect, figures are likely to vary depending on the sector in question. In the case of engineering, it may or may not come as a surprise to hear that over the past five years this sector has been ranked fifth among 25 different industries for the most days off sick with 21.29, in comparison to the national average UK of 15.27. More than 2 in 10 (21 per cent) engineering workers have sustained injury or become ill because of their job, which resulted in having to take time off work, according to a recent online study conducted by OnePoll on behalf of insurance company ‘There’, which surveyed 2000 employed and self-employed UK workers in different sectors. The engineering sector statistics were also found to be above the national average for sick days over a career (37.19 versus 34.97). Those who had been off for over a month stated that on average they were actually off for over three and a half months in total.

Unlocking the ‘productivity puzzle'

30 October, 2015

From time to time, forward-thinking companies need to make carefully considered business decisions concerning how to take their enterprise to the next level. Do they plump primarily for an investment in more machinery or other types of technology? Or do they prioritise focusing on improving the workforce’s skillsets? Well, recent research suggests that the latter strategy is currently gaining the upper hand among many medium sized manufacturers (SMEs) – particularly in London and the South East. Investing in the skills of their workforce appears to be a main priority for SMEs in this region, according to the latest Manufacturing Barometer – produced for the Business Growth Service.

Time for a green re-think

01 October, 2015

I would like to think everyone recognises the importance of doing their bit for the environment. After all, we live on a planet that has during its 4.5 billion or so years of existence come to have developed the delicate eco-system that we all rely on for our survival. Over a relatively miniscule period of time, man has made the transition from a reliance on hand-made tools and artefacts, and, for those that could afford it, the common vehicular benefits of horses and the like, to the post-industrial revolution epoch– with all its modern conveniences that have to sit alongside consequential environmental challenges. It is therefore perfectly understandable that any responsible government should check its nation’s industrial carbon footprint by putting in place a series of measures that help to address the dynamic between pollution levels and environmental vulnerability.

Conquering gender stereotypes

21 August, 2015

Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Frank Whittle et al may often the first names that come to mind when asked to reference some of history’s most famous engineers and inventors. However, it is important also to remember that woman engineers have been enhancing all our lives with their ingenuity alongside their male counterparts for generations. Sarah Guppy (1770-1852), for example, was instrumental in designing Britain's infrastructure and developed a number of products for domestic use. In 1811 her first patented invention involved a way of making safe piling for bridges. Victoria Drummond (1894-1978) was the first known female marine engineer in Britain and the first woman member of Institute of Marine Engineers. Aeronautical engineer, Beatrice Shilling (1909-1990), corrected a defect in the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine during the Second World War. In the US, Emily Roebling (1803-1903) became the first woman field engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge after husband Washington Roebling could no longer work after becoming paralysed.

Call for change

05 June, 2015

Some 40 years ago Great Britain made the decision to remain part of the European Community. Today, as political leaders debate about the potential for referendum on the UK’s membership in the EU, heated debate championing an abundance of ‘In’ and ‘Out’ arguments has understandably become de rigueur daily reading in the National press. So, as a hypothetical exercise, let’s consider how a vote could fall if a referendum were to be held tomorrow? A recent poll by Survation showed that a potential referendum on EU membership is currently balanced on a knife edge, with a referendum tomorrow predicted to be 51 per cent in favour of leaving versus 49 per cent wanting to remain a member – more or less a statistical dead heat. It is possible that the recent debates in Parliament and unrest in the Conservative Party have slightly dampened enthusiasm for leaving, perhaps by drawing attention to the possibility of future renegotiation of membership terms.

Redressing the balance

29 April, 2015

The business benefits of women serving on the board of directors has long been well-proven. Research by Catalyst back in 2013 found that Fortune 500 companies with women on their board of directors achieved tangible business results such as: higher return on equity (on average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 53 per cent); higher sales (on average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 42 per cent); and higher ROI (on average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 66 per cent). And as David Atkinson, head of manufacturing, commercial banking SME, Lloyds Bank, recently commented: “As manufacturing continues to play a pivotal role in aiding the growth of the British economy, the onus remains on the industry to encourage the development of skilled workers. That includes creating a more diverse workforce with a greater female representation. Offering access to inspirational female role models remains vital to achieving these objectives, helping to eliminate old stereotypes, and providing evidence of what young women can achieve by pursuing their ambitions.”

Playing the export game

02 April, 2015

At first sight it would appear that, overall, there is an encouraging amount of good news concerning the UK economy. For example, according to trade figures for January 2015 published this month (March) by the ONS, UK trade deficit on goods and services was £0.6 billion in January 2015, down from £2.1 billion in December 2014. Also, between December 2014 and January 2015 the volume of exports rose by 2.2 per cent, while the volume of imports fell by 4.0 per cent. However, as David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce recently commented, the scale of the decline in the deficit is exaggerated by volatile factors, in particular the substantial fall in oil imports as a result of plummeting oil prices. However, there are also positive longer-term trends. For example, in the three months to January the trade deficit almost halved compared with the previous three months, and was the smallest three-monthly deficit since 2000.

Train to gain

05 February, 2015

The benefits of apprenticeships cannot be ignored. The advantages to companies are manifold. For example, apprenticeship schemes can be the perfect tool in order to recruit new staff, or to re-train or provide further skilling to existing staff. Apprenticeships can also address the need for specific skills within your business, and ensure you have the right knowhow in place for anticipated future demands. They can also prove to be a perfect method of attracting young people with forward-looking and innovative ideas. Apprenticeships can also be highly effective in boosting morale and retaining a workforce that feels valued and well looked after. Moreover, the advantages to apprentices cannot be underestimated. Young people on this type of scheme can better cultivate a sense of purpose, knowing that they possess skills that will lay a firm foundation for future gainful employment that could sustain them, and stimulate their creative imaginations, throughout their lives. Fortunately, there have continued to be positive messages from UK Government, which would appear to recognise these undeniable benefits. The Government has outlined the next step in apprenticeship reform, making the pledge to give employers direct control of funding for the training of apprentices. Publishing the response to The Future of Apprenticeships in England: Funding Reform Technical Consultation, the Government has outlined its continuing commitment to making England’s apprenticeship system the best in the world. Skills Minister Nick Boles pointed out that December 2014 saw the start of the 2 millionth apprenticeship since 2010. This, he remarked, was an important milestone in the Government’s long-term economic plan. “If we are going improve and expand our apprenticeship programme further we must put employers in the driving seat and give them control of both the design and funding of apprenticeships,” he said. The next step is for Government to work with employer organisations and others to develop a funding model that is, in Boles’ words, “simple, transparent and easy for employers to use”. Boles added that, while putting employers in control of apprenticeship funding is a non-negotiable part of the reforms, it is clear from the feedback received that further detailed design work is needed before there can be a final decision on how this would work in practice. The funding reforms will continue to be developed alongside the trailblazers programme – giving employers control over the design of apprenticeships. Over 1000 employers, of all sizes, are now part of the trailblazers scheme in industries including engineering, legal services and health and social care. In December 2014, 22 new standards were published, with employers leading the design of apprenticeships in data analysis, aircraft maintenance and construction management. As Neil Carberry, CBI director for employment and skills, recently commented, world-class apprenticeship system “is critical to the future prosperity of the UK, so the continued commitment from Government to business leadership is a positive step”. However, he added that the Government and businesses now need to get their heads together to hammer out how the system will actually work. In the current economic climate where many companies have an opportunity to move to the next stage of growth and development, this could be the ideal time to take-on more apprentices. However, as Carberry points out, this can only happen if the system is simple and flexible enough to meet the needs of smaller businesses, not just the larger ones. In the same vein, Dr Adam Marshall, executive director at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), also stresses businesses need greater clarification on how apprenticeship funding will work in future, with a focus on keeping the system simple. He added that, at the same time, they must work to give companies who are ready a greater say in how apprenticeships are designed, delivered and paid for. In essence, UK businesses need crystal clear funding guidance. If this is provided, the potential benefits to individual companies as well as UK Plc cannot be underestimated.

Poor education and advice must not let down tomorrow’s engineers

04 January, 2015
It may not come as a surprise to learn that the parents of thousands of talented teens offer their full support in order for their young ones to have the best opportunity of becoming the UK’s future engineering talent. Indeed, according to new research announced to mark the start of the recent Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, three quarters of parents would recommend a career in engineering to their children. Moreover, nearly half (47 per cent) of secondary school children would consider a career in engineering, with 29 per cent of them being girls. However, it would appear that many young people lack the support in schools needed to fulfil their career ambitions, and only a third (34 per cent) say they know what to do next in order to become an engineer. Disappointingly, schools may not have the information needed to support the engineering ambitions of their students. More than half (56 per cent) of GCSE science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) teachers surveyed have been asked for advice about engineering careers by their pupils in the last year, yet only a third (36 per cent) felt confident giving such advice. The findings reveal further disparities between teacher attitudes and pupil ambitions. Some 42 per cent of teachers believe pay is the most important factor to pupils when making career choices, when in fact only 15 per cent of pupils cite pay as most important. Choosing a career in something that they are interested in is the biggest influence for teens’ career choices (42 per cent), and parents agree (24 per cent). In a separate study of young engineers under 30 by EngineeringUK, a quarter (23 per cent) of those surveyed said they didn’t consider engineering as a possible career choice when they were at school or college and 15 per cent were discouraged by a teacher. Some 42 per cent of those that didn’t consider an engineering career would have changed their mind if they had received better careers advice, information or inspiration and 21 per cent if they had known what engineering careers involve. Paul Jackson, chief executive of EngineeringUK, recently stressed that engineering makes a significant contribution to UK GDP growth and engineering companies will have over 2.5 million job openings between 2012 and 2022 across a diverse range of disciplines. “We’re delighted to see that parents are so supportive of their children’s engineering ambitions at a time when their talents are much-needed; however, the findings reveal a worrying lack of school support for young people,” he said, adding that EngineeringUK urges schools to use the Tomorrow’s Engineers careers resources and website to inspire their students. The Tomorrow’s Engineers Week research showed that team work, working in a creative or inventive environment and bringing new ideas to life are what young engineers enjoy most about their job. Three quarters (76 per cent) of then felt positive about how quickly and how far they will progress in their careers. Two-fifths (41 per cent) enjoyed a pay rise within the first year of employment and 19 per cent got a promotion or increased responsibilities within 6 to 12 months of starting. Leading the industry charge is Shell, which has announced a three-year investment in the Tomorrow’s Engineers schools outreach programme of over £1 million. Chairman of Shell UK, Erik Bonino, said the energy company wanted to support and inspire a new generation of world-leading engineers and scientists who will fly the flag for British innovation. “The school children of today can create the technical solutions of the future, but only if we show them the vast range of opportunities that STEM subjects and careers can offer,” he said. As Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has observantly said, whether it’s the cars we drive, the houses we live in or the clothes we wear, engineering is everywhere. This being the case, we simply cannot permit poor support at school to hinder what is potentially a vast pool of talent and ambition just waiting for the chance to grasp a successful, lifelong career – A career that can not only prove to be rewarding and enriching for the individual, but also for the rest of us through greater invention and innovation.

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