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East Midlands Chamber News

Brexit-eve manufacturing conference flagged challenges and opportunities


The potential impact of Brexit couldn’t be ignored when the award-winning Chamber staged its annual Manufacturing and Engineering Conference on the eve of the day the UK had been due to leave the EU.


But it wasn’t the only saga to be flagged as a concern for regional employers – the perennial problem of finding the right calibre of new recruits and disengagement with the Government’s national Industrial Strategy also featured prominently.


The general feeling about Brexit was that firms remained nervous about the implications of the split, resulting in a reluctance to invest in property, plant or people with money diverted in some cases to stockpiling materials necessary for continuous production that could be delayed at customs or subject to tariffs.


On the Industrial Strategy, firms expressed a view that they didn’t believe it really related to them but hoped the Local Industrial Strategies, currently being led by Local Enterprise Partnerships, would provide more practical strategic views with tangible outcomes.


At the conference, employers said they continued to be frustrated when it came to finding the right people to fill vacancies at school leaver level, for experienced manufacturing and engineering positions and managerial posts.


Worryingly, the conference heard that some of the mechanical engineering courses at regional universities were under threat due to lack of interest. Engaging primary schools was suggested as a means of nurturing interest for the future.


There were about 130 delegates at the conference, which took place from 8.30am on Thursday 28 March at The Manufacturing Technology Centre, Ansty Park, Coventry.


Lloyds Bank plc as headline sponsor and Loughborough University as associate sponsor supported the event. There were also a number of firms exhibiting on the day.


Ian Bates, the Chamber’s Sector Forums Manager, said: “Major changes in the political and economic landscape are continuing across the world, with 2019 showing no sign of respite, so the subjects causing the greatest concerns for employers came as no real surprise.”


Chris Hobson, Director of Policy at the Chamber led the conference.


Keynote speakers included Paul Smith - Area Director, Commercial Banking (Leicestershire) Lloyds Bank, Grace Carey, Head of Sector Deals Programme, Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Dominic Judge - Director of charity Education and Employers, Professor Tracy Bhamra - Pro Vice-Chancellor (Enterprise) and Professor of Sustainable Design, Loughborough University, and Michele Metcalfe - Regional Head (Wales, The Midlands and East of England), Vodafone Regional Business.


There were two panel discussions on the day. The first on finance, skills and Government policy, and the second on Future Growth in a Changing Landscape, covering both Brexit and technological advances.


Panellists on the first discussion included Tony Carr - UK Operations Manager, Caterpillar, Paul Smith, Sandra Wiggins - Director, DPI UK and Dominic Judge.


The second panel comprised Joe Darlington - Chief Engineer, Digital Engineering, Manufacturing Technology Centre, Leigh Hunt - City Development Manager CityFibre and Professor Bhamra.