Championing UK manufacturing

Steve Drew explains how Nano Electronic Services has teamed up with other businesses to explain how manufacturing offers younger generations a strong career path

For years, UK governments have failed to invest or even recognise UK manufacturing unless there was a photo opportunity or election looming. We are now suffering from this lack of investment, with workforce shortages a ticking timebomb.

Worker scarcity covers a wide spectrum of manufacturing activities, from technical to mechanical and industrial, with younger generations disinterested in the sector and using easy access to modern communication technologies to seek employment in other industries.

At last count there were around 190 contract electronic manufacturers operating in the UK, so just imagine how many companies they touch and the scale of the wider supply chain supporting them and their customers. Yet they are all likely struggling to recruit staff for their factories as older workers retire and are not replaced quickly enough. 

So, what is the solution? Honestly, I don’t know. The UK needs to start at ground level by making manufacturing attractive. From an electronics assembly viewpoint, an SMT facility is one of the cleanest working environments, far from the image of a dirty, oily factory. Yet for most young people entering the employment market for the first time, they likely don’t even know such facilities exist. 

For an industry at the cutting edge of technology, we are poor at promoting ourselves. The electronics industry needs a voice to explain the benefits it brings to the UK economy and wider world.

Even manufacturing organisations are fragmented and lack a collective voice. MadeInUK is championing a UK minister or department for manufacturing, which I believe is the best approach and something which deserves support. A dedicated Department for Manufacturing should be party agnostic and focussed on UK industry’s needs and not political agendas.

We also need an education system which is sufficiently confident to discuss manufacturing and instil this knowledge to the younger generations, supported by site visits to manufacturing facilities.

Colleges and universities need to focus courses on what industry needs, not what they think it needs. Such courses should be easy to access and demonstrate there is a strong career path ahead for people joining the sector.

On this subject, Nano is working in partnership with the IPC standards authority and UK-based training company Advanced Rework Technology. We are going back to basics with a UK roadshow that is working with local businesses and educators to encourage manual skills. 

A PhD is not required to work in the electronics sector. The industry needs people to operate surface mount production lines and solder/assemble boards and products. The initiative is focussing on teenagers, university students and anyone interested in reskilling. 

We have to start somewhere, so we have.