Champions Round Table
Manufacturing and Engineering
The recent news that Chesterfield has been named as one of two locations still in the running for a new UK factory planned by Spanish train manufacturer Talgo, has put the future of the town’s manufacturing and engineering sector under the spotlight.
The news coincided with the start of Made in Chesterfield – a year-long campaign to raise awareness of the town’s engineering and manufacturing sector.
Spearheaded by Destination Chesterfield, the campaign brings together businesses schools and training providers in a bid to inspire the next generation to consider a career in the manufacturing and engineering sector.
The manufacturing and engineering sector plays a key role in Chesterfield’s economy. Recognising the start of Made in Chesterfield, this month’s round table organised by Destination Chesterfield in association with The Derbyshire Times, brought together key figures from the sector.
AB – Ashley Booker – Head of Content, Derbyshire Times
HT – Huw Thomas – Sales Director, MSE Hiller
IB – Ian Bates – Sector Forum and Representation Manager, East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire)
DH – David Higham – Commercial Director, Learning Unlimited (The Chesterfield College Group)
MS – Matthew Southgate – Senior Economic Development Officer, Chesterfield Borough Council
How do we inspire young people to take up a career in manufacturing and engineering?
DH – The number of students studying manufacturing and engineering at the College have around doubled year-on-year for the last three years. Young people want to go into the industry, but the challenge is keeping them there and upskilling them to the right level.
HT – As a manufacturing company, our ageing workforce presents us with a problem. We’re very keen to get youngsters into the business and have turned to apprenticeships. We also opened our doors to schools for the children to visit the factory to show them that engineering doesn’t have to be filthy and black.
MS – It’s about making a link between employers and the education system. Initiatives such as Made in Chesterfield are great for getting the message across that the sector is attractive.
IB – There are a number of STEM initiatives to support the sector, however it’s about influencing the influencer. Career advisers and teachers in schools probably haven’t been in a modern engineering or manufacturing workplace for quite a while, so how can they tell people about the opportunities that are available?
DH – With the changes to apprenticeships and the opportunity to now go all the way through to degree level, young people need to know that they can do that without ending up in debt.
Can manufacturing businesses prepare for Brexit and what steps should they be taking?
HT – As MSE represents a German company we all wanted to stay in the EU, but Brexit is happening and we need to start looking at the positives. We need confidence and stability going forward, and that’s what’s lacking the most at the minute. My gut feeling is that Brexit will be good and we will all move on into a fresh, brighter future.
DH –We are seeing more employers who want their employees to be multi-skilled. They want them to be specialists in one area, but have the ability to do everything else.
IB – At the moment, the feeling is that we are not getting any clear view from the government. We have a Brexit checklist, where we can go down the list and determine, as accurately as possible, what is going to be affected the most and what we don’t need to worry about as much. We all just need to take as much support and help as we can get. The Chamber runs a number of events on Brexit to support with this.
HT – The main concern for us would be the exchange rates. MSE Hiller is in a fortunate position where it trades with some customers in both Euros and Sterling so we can flip between the two currencies.
MS – The approach we’ve already adopted, is making sure Chesterfield is the best possible place to do business. Businesses need to make sure they are taking all the support they can get, like the Sheffield City Region Growth Hub and its Exporting for Growth service.
IB – I think a lot of people in business are definitely talking about Brexit, but we need to make sure we’re actually doing something about it as well. We’re looking for the government to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, so we can have the confidence to make some decisions.
What support does the manufacturing and engineering sector need to grow and increase productivity?
HT – As a manufacturing company, it’s important to embrace innovation and develop technology as it’s that which differentiates you from your competitors and gives you your USP. To enable that, we need a ready supply of school leavers and graduates. We also need more people to be multi-skilled.
DH – Most of our employers go for the standard course, but we have a handful of companies that go for a bespoke model.
IB – There are lots of different courses, help and advice available, but it’s about getting it all in one place where it’s as easily accessible for businesses.
DH – The College is working more closely with employers, getting them to run sessions and interact with students to get them ready for work. We need them to use the equipment and technology.
MS – Businesses in Chesterfield looking for free support to grow, can get it through the council’s Chesterfield Innovation Support Project.
How has the Talgo announcement affected the mood of businesses in the sector?
MS – The Talgo train factory bid shows the opportunities that are available now and in the future.
HT – Talgo showing interest in Chesterfield is a great start to what HS2 can bring to the area. It’s exciting.
MS – I think the reason why the Talgo development is interested in the Chesterfield area is because of the rail connectivity we have here and the fact the site they are considering is immediately adjacent to the HS2 maintenance depot.
DH – If Talgo does choose to invest here, then Chesterfield will be a place where you will have the most advanced trains being developed right next to the historical Barrow Hill Roundhouse, home to steam engines. It’s an exciting time for the history of the town’s manufacturing and engineering sector.
Destination Chesterfield is part funded by contributions from local businesses, Chesterfield Borough Council and the European Regional Development Fund. The project is helping to improve the economic prosperity of the town through a campaign to promote Chesterfield.
The local business community plays a central role in its success by both leading an independent Board of Directors for Destination Chesterfield, as well as businesses pledging their support to become Chesterfield Champions.
For more information about becoming a Chesterfield Champion, visit https://www.chesterfield.co.uk/destination-chesterfield/champions/sign-up/