Manufacturing in Wales: Continuous improvement and resilience


Graham Howe, Executive Head of MADE Cymru, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

It’s people who do continuous improvement, not robots. We need people with the right level of skills and capabilities. We often discuss resilience in manufacturing, and as educators at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, we are all about providing resilience within individuals. This is key because not only do we need to get out of the Covid and Brexit situations, but we also need to be ready to face new challenges ahead. We have to create resilient and flexible individuals, and this needs to be done via skills. It is incumbent on us to support individuals in this journey by helping them to develop a broad skillset. There has been too much emphasis on core skills, and we need to move away from that. We should start focusing on high quality skills.

Within the UK, governments are putting skill development at the heart of economic recovery, and it is imperative to keep up with other global economies to encourage competitiveness, productivity and most importantly prosperity. We will face increasing competition, so Wales must unite to drive up productivity through innovation, knowledge exchange and the creation of new businesses.

Despite the pandemic, 19,000 new businesses were created in 2020. We can engender that entrepreneurial spirit, but we also need to encourage enterprise skills within our workforce. We have an aging workforce – how can we create resilience in the workforce of the future as well as the current workforce?

Education is part of the supply chain and is critical in upskilling and CPD. There has been too much emphasis on qualifications in the past, what we seek now is competence and skills. This is changing the nature of what we deliver. Projects such as MADE Cymru at University of Wales Trinity Saint David are all about innovation, knowledge exchange and research. We must push this agenda through.

In terms of developing the future workforce, it will be very competitive. Other sectors are gearing up to recruit young people and we will need to be equally as attractive and competitive. We are seeing a new wave of digitally literate young people entering our sector and we should provide that digital literacy irrespective of the core qualification they are studying. Let’s collaborate and do more to make people employment ready. I see universities as a stepping-stone between education and the world of work – and an opportunity to create those resilient life-long learners. Life-long learners are not born, we develop life-long learning alongside other skills we need to develop.

Partnerships and collaboration are pertinent to skill building, it is all about partnerships within supply chains and they should be win-win for both elements of that partnership. That is what we do at UWTSD via the MADE Cymru project, we provide that business support and foster links. There’s so much we can do to develop the future generation in terms of continuous improvement. With investment in Industry 4.0 technology, the right Industry 4.0 technology, we can ramp this up for both the future generation and the current one.

I see my role at MADE Cymru as being an honest broker to provide that independence. I want to form proactive clusters of partners to look at funding opportunities. The post-Brexit world will have a very interesting funding landscape. It is interesting to see that the UK Government is talking to the devolved nations about funding, and skills are on the top of the agenda. Together, we must be alert to this and work with local authorities to identify opportunities. Then we can work collaboratively and not in competition with each other to access funding to support the supply chain.

If we work together and develop skills pathways, we can really impact the direction of travel for young people and influence the curriculum in schools. Interestingly we know that the majority of young people who are entering schools at the age of five today will eventually be entering occupations that do not currently exist. We need to be prepared as a sector to develop this. And demonstrate agility to work in collaboration with industry, and in partnership with the whole education sector and other universities.

Latest data shows that 68% of companies identify the need for upskilling existing staff. As a university, we are the largest provider of degree apprenticeships. Now we can utilise the degree apprenticeship funding, not only in those new to sector, but in current employees not in possession of a relevant degree. We can instill the new and emerging technologies that are required to meet our objectives of continuous improvement. It is all about knowledge. Research has a key part to play here too.

As we move to a post-covid post-Brexit environment, we must embed those high level skills. That’s crucial to create the prosperity for an individual, employer and the region we live in. Let’s look at collaboration and being part of the supply chain, let’s look at those opportunities. How can we work together? MADE Cymru is our university’s brand that illustrates our commitment to the importance of manufacturing.

The best place to start is with pen and paper to understand where the gaps are in the process. From an Industry 4.0 prospective it starts with data but not about getting clever sensors to get more data – that will just record the wrong data quicker. Instead, we need to measure the right thing in what we need and maybe apply technology to help that.

The future of manufacturing is exciting. But to create success and make an economic impact, we need to collaborate openly (and that may require a lot of compromise), upskill and apply continuous improvement to everything we do. Then we really can make manufacturing in Wales more prosperous (financially and ethically) and resilient to future challenges.

This article is taken from a series of webinars in a three-day industry summit organised by MADE Cymru and University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) in June 2021. MADE Cymru is an EU funded (via Welsh Government) initiative that seeks to support and boost manufacturers in Wales via upskilling programmes and R&D. Find out more or email one of the team at [email protected]

You can watch all the MADE Cymru Industry Summit sessions via the link below.