The Debate

After the formal presentations, the speakers joined a panel to respond to questions from the audience on a range of topics, including: gross margins; identifying gaps; skills; diversity; and the greening of the economy.

The Debate

What should the minimum level of gross margin be? Well, it varies by sector, with high volume manufacturers tending to have smaller gross margins and high value manufacturers larger. Manufacturers are increasingly doing more than just manufacture – they may also be distributors, brand owners and retailers - which drives a better understanding of their customers, in turn holding out the promise of higher gross margins.

Government has a role in bringing different actors together (companies, universities, Catapult centres, etc) regardless of any formal ‘Industrial Strategy’. Driving improvements in productivity is a key part of this. Another Government responsibility is gap reporting, which can then identify a case for investment and stimulate strategies to produce strategically significant products and materials. Existing companies should seek to extract the full value of their existing innovations rather than moving to other products.

In the UK there seems to be a lack of ambition among young people about becoming creators, makers, innovators. A comprehensive and cohesive plan is needed in order to address this – a plan with the aim of inspiring children from their first days at primary school. There is no short-term fix, but recent Government initiatives on T-Levels and apprenticeships will help.

In order to address skills shortages, some large employers collectively put money into advertising and here the engineering profession could help. Companies also give time to staff to volunteer in outreach activities. Academies and professional bodies should continue to highlight the issue of specialist teacher shortages.

Greater attention should be given to diversity, for example, by appointing more women to the boards of companies. There is a shortage of women engineers coming into the workplace so more needs to be done to inspire them while they are in the education system.

To be a successful manufacturer in Britain: first, it is not always necessary to invest in new technology, but knowledge transfer and application is; second, take a global outlook; and third, recruit and retain good people. The UK also has an opportunity to leverage an important general priority – making the world greener – and inspire the next generation to contribute to solving them. Case studies can help with this.


Hardtech manufacturing in the UK – with Peter Marsh, Founder of Made here Now www.foundation.org.uk/Podcasts/2022/Peter-Marsh-Hardtech-manufacturing-in-the-UK

High-Value Manufacturing – with Katherine Bennett, Chief Executive Officer, High Value Manufacturing Catapult www.foundation.org.uk/Podcasts/2022/Katherine-Bennett-High-Value-Manufacturing

Unlocking hardtech – by Dr Amy Nommeots-Nomm, Early Stage Deeptech Investor, Octopus Ventures www.foundation.org.uk/Blog/2023/Unlocking-Hardtech