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regulated by EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) and has a bi-lateral agreement with USA.

“Are any of my current certifications going to be recognised or is that another time- hurdle I will have to get over? Is the UK Civil Aviation Authority ready to step up and take over the certification of products; have they got enough staff to oversee what has been happening on a Europe-wide basis?”

“There’s a bit of scaremongering about such things,” remarked Hawkins. “European CE product marking is so ingrained in our industries that companies will not stop it, and the Notified Bodies will still exist.”

Howard Clarke

“Notified Bodies have to have a European office to be EU-recognised,” stated Howard Clarke.

Atkinson: “Don’t people buy ‘Made in Britain’, because we uphold our own standards above and beyond what’s necessary?”

“Not always,” replied Whiteley. “We have opened a base in the States because they like to buy American and in dollars.”

Kate Arnott

Clarke: “Most of our products are shipped without a mains lead, or a UK label, and then finished as a US product.”

The Middle East still likes ‘Made in Britain’ badged products, noted Devall.

Arnott: “There is still value in ‘Made in Britain’ quality, but it depends on your sector or market.”

Any staffing difficulties?

With around 20% of SMEs having European employees, Peter Laurie queried if Brexit is producing staffing issues.

Matthew Caffrey

Flanagan said Oxford Plastics has kept its employees up-to-date with government announcements and their rights of residency. “We reassured them that we value them and want them to stay. Some Polish employees left early on, but there hasn’t been a major shift and we’ve actually had other EU people join us.”

Other roundtable employers had also not had any significant staffing issues

Belinda Whiteley

Arnott: “Reassuring and communicating with staff is exactly the right thing to do. We saw an initial unease, but in recent months HR consultants have helped ease and resolve concerns.”

Devall had been holding staff briefing workshops for clients. “Eighteen months ago there was a lot of concern, but much of the anxiety has now gone away – the UK-EU position is now much clearer to everyone. The problem may occur a few years from now if there’s a visa requirement for wider families to come to the UK.

“Recruitment generally is difficult at present, and Brexit will compound this issue.”


Skill shortages: Don’t they start at home?

Mention of the UK’s impending immigration controls quickly strayed into discussion about existing sector skills shortages.

Arnott revealed that lack of available and suitable skilled talent – not Brexit concerns – had again topped her firm’s annual MHA Manufacturing and Engineering Survey.

Devall: “Perhaps, our links made us lazy in using the EU talent pool, and it’s something we will have to address, as a positive, in the future.”

Whiteley felt foreign students too often gained a high-quality UK education then took their knowledge back home. “We should be aiming to retain such talent.”

Atkinson queried male-female perceptions of engineering, the academic structure and curricula. “Are our universities now too academic and not teaching enough practical skills?”

Do students got enough support in selecting their educational courses and understanding the proposed curriculum, queried Whiteley.

Hawkins felt academia’s commercial focus on student fees had distracted some educational bodies from creating appropriate business-related curricula, work-ready graduates and high standards.

Caffrey noted that Apprenticeship Schemes are meant to be employer-led, with skills gaps identified and filled through appropriate recruitment and education. Despite its costs, the Apprenticeship Scheme had actually focused many companies on better in-house training, he felt.

Academia and business: Let’s work closer together

With some companies having 40% of engineers over 50, there could be huge skills gaps coming when they retire. “So what are we doing about that?” queried Cranfield University’s Caffrey highlighting the need to work closer together. Universities play important roles in the education and business recruitment supply chains, and they do look for positive relationships with the business world, he added.

Having spent “several years wasting my time trawling for recruits” in the academia- supplied UK talent pool, Hawkins revealed he now goes direct. “I’ve made strong links with Bath University which has an excellent engineering projects programme that makes their students very employable.”

Barnett has also forged education links and helped with curriculum advice, for similar reasons. “I want to enthuse students, creative people coming through, that there is life in manufacturing and engineering.”


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