Audio: Hethel conference says collaboration is key to boosting Norfolk’s engineering excellence

PUBLISHED: 18:32 10 June 2014 | UPDATED: 09:42 11 June 2014

Simon Coward, director of the Hethel Engineering Centre..

Simon Coward, director of the Hethel Engineering Centre..

©Archant Photographic 2010

Norfolk’s engineers need to collaborate across a range of sectors if the region is to continue to grow its reputation as a manufacturing centre of excellence.

That was the message to business leaders who gathered for a manufacturing and skills conference held at the Hethel Innovation Centre to find new strategies for promoting the region’s economic credentials on the global stage.

Business leaders from across region descended on the event near Wymondham to engage in debates on the future of advanced manufacturing and how best to tackle the engineering skills gap.

• Click here for an in-depth audio interview with Simon Coward

Simon Coward, director of the centre, said the Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing Exhibition (EAME) had encourage engineers to strike up partnerships to help drive innovation.

“Manufacturers need to look at what is going on in other sectors, so we are sharing solutions that are currently being used in one sector that could be transferred to another,” he said. “We need to look at cross-sector innovation and see how we can think outside the box and work collaboratively so we can strengthen our supply chains. It’s about working together in order to be globally competitive.

“It is difficult to do it on your own, but when you find people you can work with that can bring different skills, technologies and experiences that is the way that we can be competitive.”

But Mr Coward said the region had to get better at sharing techniques for bringing young people and industry together if it is to address the growing skills gap.

“The skills gap is a huge challenge and its across many different sectors within engineering and manufacturing,” he said.

“But it covers the whole age range, so we need to work with primary schools, high schools, colleges, universities and those in work as well, to inspire, raise aspirations and identify the capability to transfer skills such that we can meet that significant skills gap, which exists now and is only going to grow unless we attempt to find solutions.

“The event has shared what is going on that is good. There are great things going on in primary schools and high schools, with the University Technical College Norfolk coming online in September and the University of East Anglia doing its Energy and Engineering Degree – and growing that, with the work of Opito, STEMnet and all these organisations which are supporting industry – as well as the initiatives of industry themselves by partaking in this conference and running events with local primary schools and high schools and taking on apprentices. There is lots going on and the first this is to recognise that, to make sure know what’s going on, so we can share that best practise can be shared amongst others.

“The conference must act as a call to arms to say that we have got to come together and lobby together – that way we will succeed in solving the problems that our industry faces.”

The second leg of the event – held tomorrow (Wednesday June 11) at the centre– will feature specialist workshops exploring how businesses can best communicate with their local university, including ways in which students can help small and medium sized firms grow.

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