Let’s rave about manufacturing

Organised by the Leeds Manufacturing Alliance supported by the West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, manufacturers in Leeds are joining forces to stage the first Leeds Manufacturing Festival to raise the profile of the sector and attract the next generation of young people into the industry.

Over 20 of the city’s leading manufacturing employers have so far pledged their support for the festival, which will involve a programme of events including factory visits for schools, talks and tours set to take place in October this year.

More have recently joined the cause after a successful business breakfast event hosted by festival sponsor RSM at its Leeds office on 27 April, where employers were able to find out more about the aims of the Festival, how to get involved and building stronger links with local schools.

Mike Thornton, head of manufacturing at RSM, said, “The manufacturing sector is facing a perfect storm where crucial skills could be lost if the knowledge is not transferred to the younger generation. The Leeds Manufacturing Festival will not only lift the lid on modern manufacturing; dispel any myths; and showcase the strength of Yorkshire’s manufacturing sector; but we hope inspire more young people to consider a career in manufacturing, which is why we are proud to be part of it.”

Victoria Hopkins, managing director of Hopkins Catering Equipment and chair of the Leeds Manufacturing Alliance, said, “The aim of the Festival is to make connections between manufacturers and local schools so that we can open the eyes of young people, teachers, careers advisers and parents to the wide range of career opportunities that exist in manufacturing.”

Manufacturing makes a major contribution to the economy of Leeds, with over 1,800 firms employing a combined workforce of around 26,000 employees, making Leeds the UK’s third largest centre for manufacturing by local authority area. In the wider Leeds city region more than 125,000 people are employed in manufacturing.

Hopkins continued, “Manufacturing in Leeds is incredibly diverse – from advanced engineering and medical technology, to food and drink manufacture, electronics, textiles and the world’s only vinyl jukebox manufacturer. It offers opportunities at all levels, from the shop floor through to skilled technical, professional and managerial levels.”

The festival in Leeds is supported by Leeds City Council and is being sponsored by RSM, Allied Irish Bank, Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and the manufacturers’ organisation EEF.

Figures compiled by the EEF show that only a fraction of young people from state-funded mainstream schools and colleges go on to do an apprenticeship compared to 51% that go on to do a qualification at a UK higher education institution. And just 7% of engineering apprenticeships completed last year were undertaken by women.

This is despite huge demand for engineers and technical skills, the fact that the average hourly rate for engineering apprentices is currently £6.44 – almost double the minimum rate – and a third of manufacturers currently support employees to undertake higher level qualifications.

Graham Cooper, site manager at Agfa Graphics Leeds, said, “Manufacturing offers tremendous opportunities but we face major challenges in the coming years not least because the workforce is aging and we are failing to attract young people into industry.

“Part of the problem is the image young people, their parents and schools have of what it’s like to work in manufacturing is completely mistaken. We need to change perceptions and that’s why we are planning to open our doors to local schools and communities so they can see for themselves what we do and the range of career opportunities available.”

The website www.leedsmanufacturingfestival.co.uk is now live enabling more manufacturing companies and more schools to express interest in taking part.