TIME TO RE-MAKE MANUFACTURING'S IMAGE?
"A manufacturing panel and look at our gender make-up."
Rosa Wilkinson, of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, made the observation during a panel debate on The Future of Making Things on Day Five of the International Business Festival.
She was one of three women joined by Siemens UK business manager Simon Keogh for the discussion, led by BBC Business Editor and Manufacturing Day host Simon Jack. And discussion about diversity and creativity in the sector was to prove a recurring theme on another fascinating day at Exhibition Centre Liverpool.
As Royal Academy of Engineering chief executive Dr Hayaatun Sillem put it during her session on Thinking Like An Engineer, if you did a Google image search for 'engineer', the results would offer mostly white men in hats and jackets. "And you will find more diversity in the hats and jackets than in the people wearing them," she added.
Dr Sillem said that "horribly outdated views" about the profession were acting as a barrier to many prospective employees. This was exacerbating an annual shortfall of 59,000 engineers and technicians experienced by British firms, she said, adding: "A lack of access to skills is putting a brake on their productivity."
Dr Sillem was later joined by Cobra Beer founder Lord Bilimoria, who argued passionately for manufacturing to be recognised for its creativity. How could the word be "wrestled away" from the creative industries such as music and arts, he wondered.
He remembered his creativity being suppressed as a child but said: "When I started Cobra Beer and became an entrepreneur, I realised I was creative and that it was the number one skill I needed. If we can encourage our children in primary school to be creative... wow!"
The peer added that the impact on GDP would be noticed in the years ahead. He argued that the UK needed to "set its priorities straight" by prioritising manufacturing and investing more in research and development.
"Britain is so fantastic, we take it for granted," he said.
The peer, a strong opponent of Brexit, described it as an "unmitigated disaster". And Simon Jack had touched on the subject in his World We're In introduction to the day.
"Some manufacturers have spent hundreds of millions of pounds they didn't want to spend on contingency. That money would have been much better spent on research and development," he said.
While many were pinning their hopes on the UK forging free trade agreements with non-EU countries post-Brexit, he pointed out there were no free trade agreement between Germany and its biggest trading partner, China.
"The observation I would make is free trade agreements don't matter that muhc when it comes to selling goods and services in markets. What matters is research and development, innovation, making stuff that other countries won't.
"In the current environment, productivity becomes less a desirable thing and more an essential one," he argued.
"You need to give workforces and your businesses the kit and skills to do a better job. It means you can pay the workforce more, their living standards go up, they pay more tax and through this productivity miracle, the wealth of citizens and nations is increased."
His words were perfect to tee up an afternoon session from Tony Danker, of the Be The Business campaign group, which campaigns to increase productivity.
He said the UK was hampered by bad management, unambitious leadership, fear of taking risks and people holding back from investing and exporting.
"If you are an accidental manager, take time out of your business to work on how to run it better," he told delegates.