As part of the Conservative Party Conference last week, a number of talks were held about various different initiatives and their effect on business. I attended an interesting discussion on the Midlands Engine in which senior manufacturing and energy leaders spoke to highlight the exceptional opportunities within their markets in the region. On the panel were Tony Crocker, CEO of Eon; Jesse Norman, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Energy & Industry; Gordon Waddington, CEO of the Energy Research Accelerator; and Dr Richard Hutchins, Deputy CEO of Marketing Birmingham.
The Midlands Engine is an initiative designed to enable growth within the West and East Midlands, not too dissimilar from the Northern Powerhouse which has been more widely publicised. Whilst it is well known that the Midlands has a very strong presence within the manufacturing and energy markets, there is still plenty for these industries to do when it comes to attracting more investment and enhancing the area’s international perception as a viable and thriving manufacturing hub.
Despite the Brexit debate and subsequent result, the manufacturing and energy industries are growing in the region with outputs estimated to boost the economy by £34bn in the next 15 years. This growth is not without its challenges and skills shortages have been highlighted as a limitation for future success. Recruiting into these markets has become increasingly more difficult, and the discussion emphasised the need to have more of a focus on bringing skills into manufacturing, engineering and energy, rather than just relying on those who already have sector experience.
Attracting talent into the industrial sector is a key component of future success for the Midlands Engine. Eon have reflected this in their recruitment strategy – Tony Crocker, said that they will be recruiting 5,500 more people as part of their smart metering initiative, developing their apprentice scheme by increasing its capacity by 120 and will look at talent from outside of the sector. At Berwick Partners, we have been working a number of roles over the past few months which reflect this, with clients open to developing talent pipelines for the next generation of senior leaders from outside the industry.
In addition, collaboration between Government and the manufacturing and energy sectors, particularly in regards to innovation and skills, was sighted as a crucial factor for success. It was noted that if Government and companies worked closer together, particularly on training and recruitment strategies, the impact of the Midlands Engine would increase even further. Whilst there have been a number of companies that have done this already, few are based in the Midlands – as such, it was agreed by the panel that this is something that needs to improve for the region.
With UK manufacturing output reaching a two year high, the effects of the Midlands Engine appear to be positive; this was certainly the view of the speakers. By developing their recruitment strategies and working more with Government organisations, manufacturing and energy companies will help promote this initiative further. This is a great time for the manufacturing and energy markets and the fact that these industries have been able to grow in a time of economic uncertainty shows their strength.
Catherine Osman is a Researcher in the Manufacturing & Engineering Practice at Berwick Partners.