The round table focused on business growth and the problems faced by Midlands manufacturing SMEs in achieving it. The outcome of the meeting was that one of the biggest challenges faced by SMEs is getting people interested in manufacturing as a career.
Despite being in the midst of one of the most prosperous periods for many years some Midlands manufacturing SMEs are experiencing staffing problems that are preventing them from expanding.
Participants pointed out that one of the biggest issues being faced by local companies is getting young people, notably women, into manufacturing jobs. Following on from that is the issue of actually retaining skilled workers once they have been recruited and trained. SMEs are finding that their workforces are being poached by bigger firms and other sectors.
Other challenges being faced include the inability to adopt new technology needed to make small manufacturers more productive. Many SMEs have outdated IT systems and machinery due to being unable to implement change.
Many SMEs have also complained about the lack of decent broadband available in the region, even in urban areas, and feel frustrated by the lack of funding available to them to promote growth.
Dan Carins, head of Black Country Growth Hub, said: “The biggest challenge for many small businesses is ‘absorptive capacity’ – they may know they need things like funding and guidance, but they don’t have time to pursue or implement them”.
He went on to explain that the Black Country LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) has offered 99.6 per cent of businesses in the region access to high-speed broadband but the actual take-up of the offer is low because of this ‘absorptive capacity’ issue.
He added: “The same problem means SMEs are using the same IT system as they did 20 years ago, adding and adding bits, and can’t afford the expense in money or time for the upgrades they really need. It’s seen as too expensive so they muddle on, becoming ever less efficient”.
There is also a common consensus that the funding available to SMEs is aimed more at creating jobs rather than improving productivity and increasing innovation.
Adam Tichen, West Midlands regional manager for EEF, said: “Our members are frustrated in seeing funds offered that don’t fit their needs. There is a lot of funding available for manufacturing SMEs but a lot of it is misdirected into solely creating jobs at a time when businesses are not necessarily thinking about taking people on but more about improved productivity which may actually lead to jobs being cut”.
EEF is an organisation that represents British manufacturing firms and communicates with the government on behalf of its members. It offers business support, industry information, training and research. At its technology training centre in Aston it offers manufacturing apprenticeships up to degree level.
Sajid Butt from Skills Support for the Workforce suggested the solution to managing expectations on growth is better coordination of government policies in order to ensure that the necessary resources to support SMEs and their workforces are delivered in the right way.
Sajid said: “We’ve found it’s best to discuss the ‘growing pains’ of a business with the relevant manager or director, to understand how skills can support their growth ambitions. We can link up with the local Growth Hub or chamber to make sure a business receives comprehensive support and isn’t going from pillar to post to try and find a solution to these ‘growing pains’.
“Tailoring the skills solution for the business makes it easier for them to capitalise on the free skills investment being made so that they know how this fits in with their wider plans”.
If your SME needs support visit our ‘Growth for small businesses’ page. We offer advice and contacts to help you ensure that your growth is realistic, manageable and successful.