The very first Manufacturing Wales Members Meeting was held in late March – and last week we featured the views and aspirations of the members present, which included the principals from AB Glass, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Ministry of Furniture, Modplan, Shufflebottom Ltd, Stately Albion and University of South Wales, together with founding members Giancarlo Bianchi of Penderyn (who kindly sponsored the event), Oliver Conger of Rototherm, Andrew Evans of SPTS Technologies (a KLA company), Chris Meadows of IQE, Tony Trussell of Creo Medical and Alison Orrells of The Safety Letterbox Company.
The first round-table discussion for the independent voice of manufacturing in Wales
This week, we review the round-table discussion that illuminated the second half of the inaugural meeting, chaired by Frank Holmes, who introduced the session with news that Manufacturing Wales would be looking to help find employment amongst member companies for those workers affected by the redundancies announced at Aston Martin in St. Athan. Frank also shared the latest business data from a pan-Wales cross-section of 150 businesses, showing the pandemic had seen sales drop for 42% of those businesses, with 32% remaining stable and 26% increasing sales – and similar figures reported for exports. 62% of the companies revealed cash challenges and 64% a decrease in capacity – bringing an informed context to the discussion that followed.
Supply chain lead times are currently the worst ever – and will get worse before they get better
Supply chain lead time figured as a real and ongoing concern for many members, with Alex Shufflebottom of Shufflebottom Limited recounting that some products on order since last November still hadn’t arrived, at a time when sales had increased dramatically. The feeling was that the supply chain situation would deteriorate further and this view was shared by David Burles and Heidi Sachs of Modplan, who had experienced three-month delivery delays for goods held up at Felixstowe – and there was a common view that it would be increasingly difficult to absorb the attendant price rises, with Alan Brayley of AB Glass concerned that if the current situation persists, the mid-term could see cost of production exceed the price of sale in some construction sectors.
For Alison Orrells, this was the single biggest challenge facing The Safety Letterbox Company:
“we’re offering our products at the lowest price in 35 years – so we need to educate procurement in the value of buying British; and the bigger picture of building a safer and more secure future for everyone in the UK.”
“Growing our own people seems to be the best way to go”
Conversely, most of the member businesses present had “never been so busy”, with many looking to expand operations – but struggling to find sufficiently skilled people. AB Glass, Modplan and Stately Albion have established or are looking to set up in-house training academies.
“I’m disappointed that the only Aluminium Windows training course suitable for my people is in England” admitted Alan of AB Glass.
Closer to home some help was available, according to Oliver Conger, sharing his practical experiences of training the engineering and manufacturing team at Rototherm. Oliver’s knowledge-share proved incredibly valuable for everyone present, with Graham Hirst, MD of the Ministry of Furniture, being one of many to express thanks for learning how one of South Wales’ most successful lean engineering environments had overcome a critical obstacle in skilling the team.
“We need the education system to understand the skills we really need, not what they think we need”
Andrew Evans of SPTS Technologies (a KLA company) noted that his company had been able to build strong relationships with Schools, FE and HE – but would pass on the challenges faced by other members to a UK Government Task Force chaired by Michael Gove – and Tony Trussell, Corporate Development Officer of Creo Medical added his views that a post-pandemic decline in numbers of foreign students “as well as UK students who are discouraged by the new virtual experience” may reduce the flow of future talent.
“What people want is a really good and reliable source of skilled people who can add real value to a business” stressed Tony.
Whilst sharing Tony’s view, Matthew Taylor – Director of Innovation at Cardiff Metropolitan University, reminded the membership that despite the COVID crisis, the universities in Wales were being both innovative and dynamic in working with businesses to give them the future talent pipelines they need.
Frank Holmes brought the inaugural Manufacturing Wales meeting to a formal close by sharing two further practical collaborative outcomes – a potential tie-up with Global Welsh which would open up international networking opportunities; and the launch of a new messaging board on the Manufacturing Wales website that enables members to share issues or opportunities in real time.
Frank concluded with:
“it’s wonderful to see Manufacturing Wales alive and kicking – and we’re looking forward to welcoming new members to our future meetings.”