Manufacturing sector comes together in Mid & East Antrim to plan buoyant future
One of the first major steps in rejuvenating the manufacturing sector in the Mid and East Antrim Borough has been taken at a workshop held in the ECOS Centre, Ballymena.
The council’s Manufacturing Taskforce brought together over 50 representatives from the borough’s manufacturing companies for a brainstorming session to exchange ideas around how to grow the sector in the years ahead.
Led by the Chair of the Taskforce Rose Mary Stalker, it encouraged the company representatives to review the key issues that need to be addressed within their sector around productivity, skills, research and development, the supply chain and innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). They were then asked to come up with recommendations as to how those issues should be addressed so that they, and other companies in and beyond the borough, can improve their global competitiveness and sustainable growth.
Anne Donaghy, Chief Executive of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, said: “If the public and private sector work hand-in-hand then the manufacturing sector in the borough will blossom. That is why we have set up the Manufacturing Taskforce and why we, as a council, have brought together the people who are at the heart of the sector to ask them what they need.
“It was a bold step to create the Manufacturing Taskforce but we have ambitious plans for the borough. We want to identify and tackle the underlying issues and put plans in place to improve productivity, competitiveness and the responsiveness of manufacturing companies so they can grow sustainably and create high value jobs.”
Rose Mary Stalker, Chair of the Manufacturing Taskforce, said: “The desire to rejuvenate the sector is evident by the level of participation and engagement at this workshop, both from manufacturers and support organisations. Together we came up with a number of ideas which we will need to develop further into a Mid & East Antrim Manufacturing Task Force Plan.
“This plan will aim to overcome the economic loss of both Michelin and JTI-Gallagher in recent years. Having worked throughout the industry I am fully aware of the challenges facing manufacturers of all sizes.
“The decision by the council to face those issues head on by forming the Manufacturing Taskforce is an innovative move and to be commended.”
Some of the main recommendations from the workshop were to:
- Create a core capability in 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution) methods and applications to provide leadership and expertise to local manufacturers accelerating the sector’s application of digital and other advanced manufacturing technologies to improve competitiveness
- Upskill both employees and leaders in the preparation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
- Inspire more young people, and their parents, to pursue a career in the manufacturing sector - pilot a local collaborative careers initiative starting pre-GCSE aimed at students, their parents and teachers to inform and enthuse
- Implement a regional skills barometer to identify current and future skills needs. Pilot a local agreement between schools, industry and FE colleges to deliver training to meet the current & future skills needs of the industry
- Hold meet-the-buyer events to help SMEs to become suppliers to larger companies, create an integrated pool/collaborative partnership with suppliers. Help potential suppliers understand the regulatory, financial and other compliance requirements.
- Need Specific SME Manufacturing Centre of Excellence in M&EA with facilities accessible and affordable to SMEs including meeting space and product development labs.
- Make access to support easier for small companies - create a centralised source of support for manufacturing SMEs and Specialist Manufacturing Advisors with knowledge of the range of support available engaging with SMEs
- Develop heat trucks which can share heat produced by manufacturers with a surplus with those which need it
- Make our manufacturing & industrial work environments more attractive to existing and potential employees
- Need an Advance Manufacturing Strategy for Northern Ireland.
By addressing these and other recommendations to come out of the workshop, the manufacturing sector in the borough will be able to cement its place as the engine room of the Northern Ireland economy.
It will capitalise on strong investor confidence in the area and will be a central plank in the council’s aim to increase GVA, drive productivity and create jobs.
Other initiatives include MEABC’s involvement in City Deal, within which it has eight projects; in pitching for one of the biggest UK government contracts, the Heathrow Hub; in launching phase two of Catalyst Inc. at the ECOS Centre; in developing 50% of the St Patrick’s Barracks site into an advanced manufacturing campus; in developing The Gobbins to attract 50,000 visitors and to develop the old Michelin site with investor Silverwood into a manufacturing hub.