More than 1,000 people from leading manufacturing and engineering businesses from across the Midlands came together at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on June 20 to celebrate the sector and the 10th anniversary of trade organisation Made in the Midlands.
Made in the Midlands’ annual Expo attracted a record number of visitors this year, who flocked to the trade show to see some of the best in Midlands manufacturing and engineering. Those exhibiting – all members of Made in the Midlands – showcased a wide range of products and services. This included examples of cutting-edge technology such as cobots – collaborative robots – and metalworking fluid, as well as more traditional, but no less important, manufactured products.
The event also provided business leaders with the perfect platform to network with other leading players in the region and create opportunities for new contacts.
In the Midlands the manufacturing sector has remained strong in 2019, despite the continuing economic uncertainty around Brexit, with many of the attendees predicting growth for this year and looking to take on more employees.
This optimism helped to fuel a positive atmosphere at the Expo, as exhibitor stands were busy throughout the day.
The day also included a full programme of seminars, which were well attended throughout. The seminars were conducted using the ‘silent conference’ system, whereby attendees wore headphones to hear in crystal-clear clarity what each speaker was saying.
Lord Mike Whitby, chair of the Made In Group, opened up proceedings, marking the 10th anniversary of Made in the Midlands. In the decade since, the trade association has grown to encompass more than 500 members involved in all aspects of manufacturing and engineering. He also gave a brief overview of the sector this year.
He was followed by Veronika Oswald, corporate development director at JP Jenkins, who spoke about the trading platform the company runs for unlisted companies to sell shares and raise finance, without having to go through the expense and time of conducting an IPO. It can also be used to provide a market-driven share price. In her talk, Veronika also revealed that Made in Group will soon be joining the market, to much interest in the audience.
Then it was standing room only at the seminar area for Rhys Herbert’s talk. Lloyds Banking Group’s senior economist spoke extensively on the economic outlook for the second half of 2019. He noted that global growth has softened this year and further interest rate rises are expected. However, business confidence remains relatively high in the Midlands, despite concerns over the future of manufacturing. Confidence has held up well compared to other regions in the UK too.
Herbert was followed by another Welshman, Trystan Bevan, performance coordinator at Wasps Rugby – who play at the Ricoh Arena – who spoke about managing risk, and the parallels between elite sport and business. He noted that in rugby, managing a squad is about coping with the unexpected, adapting to changing demands and trends and challenging competitors over a sustained period – much as managing a business is too.
Digitalisation and automation are two issues of increasing importance in manufacturing and engineering, in the Midlands and across the world. Andrew Peters from Siemens outlined the potential that digitalisation and automation has for manufacturing businesses in the coming years – not just for global businesses like Siemens but SMEs as well. Andrew outlined how Siemens is pioneering digitalisation, automation and data connectivity to accelerate the company’s global competitiveness. For instance, Siemens is using virtual reality in product development to bring down the time-to-market for new products.
Sustainability is another watchword for many businesses in the Midlands, and it isn’t just something that is ‘nice to do’ it can help to increase a business’ profitability, as James Sopwith, group strategic account director of Birmingham-based multi-disciplinary engineering firm adi Group explained.
James said that sustainability is about much more than things like reducing a business’ carbon footprint. For example, adi Group runs a pre-apprenticeship for 14- to 16-year-olds to give them hands-on experience in a real-life working environment with the aim of inspiring them to consider engineering as a career. Of the first cohort of 10 young people, five are now enrolled on full-time apprenticeship schemes at adi.
In the final session of the morning, Mark Lomas, head of equality, diversity and inclusion at HS2 talked about equality and diversity within the HS2 project. HS2 has won awards for its diversity and it is an integral part of the project. Mark explained that with a quarter of the current railway workforce set to retire by 2028, the industry has to recruit from as wider talent pool as possible and draw skills from all parts of society. This ranges from changing recruitment messages to attract people from a diverse range of backgrounds to blind auditions – where personal and demographic details of the person are removed.
After a break for lunch there came a panel discussion on the Queen’s Awards. Ninder Johal, chair of the Nachural Group, chaired the discussion and explained how businesses go about gaining Queen’s Award for Enterprise accreditation in the various fields – innovation, international trade, sustainable development and promoting opportunity through social mobility.
Ninder was joined in the session by Rowan Crozier, CEO of precision metal components manufacturer Brandauer, which recently won a Queen’s Award for International Trade. He talked about how the company gained the accreditation and the positive effect it has had on the business since.
International trade is a concern for many businesses and the effect that Brexit could have on manufacturing. This is what Peter Wilding, Brexit director at law firm FBC Manby Bowdler – and the man credited with coining the term ‘Brexit’ – addressed in his seminar.
Cutting through the usual rhetoric, Peter outlined the potential ramifications of a ‘no deal’ Brexit on Midlands manufacturing firms from a legal standpoint and what they could have to do to continue trading internationally after the UK has left the EU from a compliance point of view.
Finally, Katie Buckingham from Altruist Enterprises talked about the importance of mental health in the workplace. She noted that 31% of employees have experienced a mental health issue at work, and that it is an issue that cannot be ignored. She advocated starting conversations about mental health and encouraging a culture where employees who are dealing with mental health issues such as stress can speak up without fear of judgement.
After the main event closed, many delegates stayed on at the Ricoh Arena for a drinks reception hosted by Made in the Midlands. In this relaxed setting, delegates had further chances to network and build connections, while at the same time enjoying a pint of specially brewed Made in Group 10th Anniversary dry hopped IPA.
Jason Pitt, managing director of the Made in Group, summed up the day: “This tenth anniversary Expo event has been a tremendous success, with more people attending than ever before.
“It also demonstrates the strength of the manufacturing and engineering sectors in the Midlands and the confidence among business leaders despite the continuing economic uncertainty in the UK.
“We look forward to welcoming everybody back next year for the Made in the Midlands Expo 2020.”Back