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Strength in Diversity for Manufacturing in Wales

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Manufacturing in Wales is a highly diverse and complex community, with a wide variety of niches and specialisms serving an amazing array of markets and geographies – delivered through supply chains and collaborations that stretch from state-of-the art foundries to world-class academic centres of excellence.

Ultimately though, for all the pioneering processes and inspiring innovations that we see right across the sector, manufacturing in Wales is “people powered” – driven by the skillsets and mindsets of the human capital that continues to make Wales a home for manufacturing excellence and magnet for international inward investment.

The skillsets and mindsets of our human capital drives the development of manufacturing in Wales

Last month’s Membership Meeting of Manufacturing Wales celebrated “The People Thing” – sharing expert knowledge and first-hand experiences of how bringing together the right ‘hearts and minds’ forges the resilience, agility and sustained high performance needed to succeed.  Since the pandemic hit, we have noted how some of our members such as Modplan have invested in their in-house training academies to build future talent pipelines, at the time observing with pride as FSG Tool & Die Ltd introduced their extraordinary 6-year apprenticeships and SPTS Technologies (a KLA Company) shaped career pathways with local schools – as well as marveling at the way members such as Penderyn and Rototherm have managed to evolve and transform in the most remarkable way through an agile and motivated workforce.

Harnessing the power and potential of our current and future workforce

Seeing the results of such great work in action has been a prime mover behind the launch of our very own Job Board, created to showcase the most diverse range of roles available right now across the Manufacturing Wales ecosystem. May’s virtual membership meeting continued this theme – opening up an in-depth discussion on how the very different working cultures of our membership organisations are continually evolving to harness the power and potential of their current and future workforce, focusing on creating more flexible and agile ways of working that attract and retain the widest possible pools of talent.

The opportunity for people, processes and technology to work differently and create better performing teams and organisations

Frank Holmes, Chair of Manufacturing Wales, introduced a fascinating and highly-pertinent debate on ‘Attracting & Retaining the Talent for an Agile Way of Working’ – a thought-provoking discussion that involved poignant inputs from key figures at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Creo Medical, GTS Flexible Materials, IQE, Pro-steel Engineering, Shufflebottom Ltd., Stately Albion, Toucan Systems and the University of South Wales.

Frank contextualised the subject by reflecting on the way that shifts in organisational roles and working cultures have opened up the need – and very real opportunity – for people, processes and technology to work differently together;

“This is our chance to move beyond ‘being flexible’ to being genuinely transformational, adaptable and responsive to change” emphasised Frank, “by creating better performing organisations, supply chains and hybrid working models that make more of the talent available to us.”

We work from a ‘Character Description’ rather than a ‘Job Description’ 

Simon Prichard of Philtronics shared his own experiences of having to be adaptable and flexible in contract manufacturing – and the need to develop your own talent and understand the DNA of your organisation: training up people with the right character and attitudes from virtually zero existing skills, to the point that they are your ‘go-to’ people who you can rely on for everything and anything.

“Some of my best people didn’t have any experience of electronics when they joined us” explained Simon “and we learned that by working on their strengths rather than concentrating on their weaknesses, designing ‘Character Descriptions’ rather than ‘Job Descriptions’, we could build our own team rather than continually chase after the scarce skills we have in South Wales.”

Training and promoting from within is the way forward, but you need to provide the pathways and support

Alan Brayley of AB Glass agreed:

“Simon is spot on and I talked with fellow member Graham Hirst at The Ministry of Furniture a few days ago about the very same problem. We agreed that training and promoting from within is the way forward for us. But you need to design the right learning pathways and personalised support to achieve that, or you end up promoting people to incompetence.”

Manufacturing Wales Founder Member Alison Orrells of The Safety Letterbox Company held similar views on the need to overcome skill shortages, also noting how Wellbeing and Hybrid Working are genuinely hot topics in the minds of employees right now, with Alison’s company currently training their team on the importance of Mental Health to create a culture of support and openness that enables employees to shine and ultimately be the most productive;

“I fear there could be another crisis looming post Covid if there simply aren't enough people seeking quality employment with the desire to learn and to progress. We’re in a critical place right now with our businesses looking to grow and with multiple vacancies to fill – but the future-proofed skillsets are not necessarily in abundance right now to help us achieve that. However well we introduce blended working and our wellbeing practices, it still requires that real desire to embrace learning and progression within a business to really make a difference and in turn grow and be rewarded as an individual. It’s vital we do all we can in the business community to create the right culture to attract, reassure and encourage those who want to progress”, stressed Alison.

Diversity of thinking and a more inclusive workforce strengthens an organisation

Against that background of member concerns around the availability of people with the necessary innate talent to skill up, Frank introduced Professor Amanda Kirby of the University of South Wales, an internationally-acknowledged expert in Neurodiversity, author of numerous authoritative books including the recently-launched “Neurodiversity at Work” and CEO of Do-It Solutions (www.doitprofiler.com). Amanda hosted a revelatory session that showed how opening up an organisation to more diverse thinking and a more inclusive workforce significantly strengthens resilience, producing a greater capacity for innovation and ability to future proof for any market circumstance.

Small things costing £75 can make a big difference, creating high-performing teams

During the session, Amanda outlined the ‘why and how’ people are different – and the benefits of  harnessing the power of those differences to create an inclusive workplace that can drive a better business. Detailing the five steps of  becoming a neuro-diverse inclusive organisation, the Professor showed how attracting talent starts at the top, demonstrating the importance of marrying the recruitment process to the interview process to attract the talent you need, underlining the advantages of personalising rather than categorising – and emphasising how small things, sometimes costing an average of £75, can make a big difference: creating teams in a much more effective way, with the sense of wellbeing necessary for sustainable high performance at their very heart.

A new HR group and Online Forum for sharing best practices

Frank thanked Amanda and noted “Talent is now much scarcer than Capital”, before announcing the establishment of a HR group within Manufacturing Wales, to help share experiences and knowledge of blended working, employee wellbeing and managing an increasingly diverse workforce – and in another inclusion-based initiative, detailed the launch of a manufacturing community Forum platform, with secure private log-ins for every member, that will enable the Manufacturing Wales membership to share knowledge and shape future conversations.

June will see Manufacturing Wales holding two member events – with Global Welsh hosting a virtual meeting on the 21st June at 6pm; and a further ‘Digital Manufacturing’ special event being held on 22nd June at 10am. To find out more about becoming a Manufacturing Wales member and benefiting from being part of this unique community, go to: www.manufacturingwales.com