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Manufacturing leaders focus on skills, trends and challenges

Industry leaders gave an insight into the trends and challenges facing the manufacturing and engineering sector at a specialist forum held at Leonardo Helicopters UK, in Yeovil.

Organised by Somerset Chamber of Commerce, representatives from around 50 manufacturing and engineering firms listened to guest speakers including David Collings, Head of Aircraft Operations UK for Leonardo Helicopters, Mark Bolton, the CEO and Principal of Yeovil College, Simon Howes, Managing Director of the South West Manufacturing Service (SWMAS) and Neil Discombe, the Managing Director of Garador who spoke on behalf of Yeovil’s M-Hub.

The speakers outlined changes and trends affecting the sector, from addressing educational and skills challenges, to working collaboratively to share knowledge and processes, as well as developing relationships with other manufacturers across the region.

Mr Collings said Leonardo Helicopters was only able to deliver fantastic products and services thanks to its dedicated staff and said the company was committed to investing in training and development.

He said digital technology such as 3D scanning, electronic toolboxes, augmented reality and virtual reality offered a raft of opportunities and said Leonardo Helicopters UK was ready to evolve with the ever-changing needs of the rotary wing market.

Mr Bolton said the support of businesses such as Leonardo Helicopters UK was essential to ensure Yeovil College was able to deliver apprenticeships and to ensure the future workforce had the skills needed by local employers.

Mr Howes outlined the findings of SWMAS’s most recent Manufacturing Barometer survey and said 60% of respondents were expecting an increase in sales, indicating a gradual improvement in business confidence. He said while sales and investment had been down in the last 6 months manufacturers had retained staff in anticipation of a return to growth and that confidence was starting to return to the sector.

Mr Discombe outlined the work of M-Hub, a newly-formed initiative run by Yeovil Chamber of Commerce exclusively for manufacturing and engineering businesses from across Yeovil and the surrounding areas. He said the group enabled local businesses to share problems and solutions and opening up cross-sector discussions.

Stephen Henagulph, Chief Executive of Somerset Chamber of Commerce, thanked the speakers and attendees and said it was clear young people needed to be encouraged to take an interest in engineering and manufacturing from an early age to ensure there was a skilled workforce for the future.

He said Somerset and the South West had much to offer, from Leonardo Helicopters UK and the Hydrographic Office, to Hinkley Point C, This is Gravity and the Met Office: “The only people who can shout about the brilliance of businesses in Somerset and the South West are the people who are in this room,” Mr Henagulph said.

“Somerset is a great place to invest and we have to take that message and tell everybody, because if we don’t, we will constantly be overshadowed by the Midlands Engine and the Northern Powerhouse. They are no better than us and we need to let everyone know,” he added.

Photo caption: Pictured at the event, from left, are Stephen Henagulph, Chief Executive of Somerset Chamber of Commerce,  Simon Howes, Managing Director of the South West Manufacturing Service (SWMAS), David Collings, Head of Aircraft Operations UK for Leonardo Helicopters UK, Mark Bolton, the Principal of Yeovil College and Neil Discombe, the Managing Director of Garador.

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