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Industry panellists focus on the diverse manufacturing industry of Leicestershire at Leicester Business Festival event

1 December 2022

As part of this year’s Leicester Business Festival, Leicestershire Business Voice (LBV) hosted a ‘Celebrating the diverse manufacturing industry of Leicestershire’ event at the boohoo group site in Thurmaston on 10 November 2022.

Key representatives from some of the city and county’s major SME manufacturers formed two panels for discussions around two main topic areas – ‘What are the key strengths of the Leicester and Leicestershire economy?’ and ‘What is it about Leicester and Leicestershire from a skills perspective that is attractive (what works well)?’.

The two guest panels consisted of representatives from organisations including Leicester City Council, AVW Fabrications Ltd, Michael Smith Switchgear, ICAEW Manufacturing Advisory Group, Arnold Willis & Co, Aristic Ltd, Apparel & Textile Manufacturing Federation, LLEP, Fashion Enter, boohoo group plc, English Martyrs Catholic School and Leicester Castle Business School.

Strengths, barriers and opportunities

The panellists in the first session agreed that one of the region’s unique strengths is the fact that 98% of its businesses are SMEs. Sue Tilley, Head of the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP) said: “Being an SME means that businesses can be flexible, adaptable and innovative. SME economies are made up of people that genuinely care about the business and the local community.”

The region’s rich heritage and history of manufacturing, in particular textiles, was also mentioned as a key strength. Adam Clarke, Deputy City Mayor for Leicester City Council, commented that “Families that developed the textile industry post-war are still working here today. It’s the great, passionate people that make the region’s manufacturing industry so good.”

The support available to organisations in Leicester and Leicestershire was also highlighted. Sajjad Khan from Aristic talked about the benefits of industry networks such as the Apparel and Textile Manufacturing Federation, the LLEP, and LBV for connecting with other businesses, learning from each other and making connections.

Peter Chandler, Head of Economic Regeneration at Leicester City Council encouraged businesses to “access the support available and engage with the industry led networks to work with others in the sector.”

Adam Clarke added: “Local government can act as a conduit for understanding how organisations can grow and is there to support businesses.”

Looking at the employees of manufacturing businesses it was agreed that organisations need to communicate their successes more and showcase what it is they do. Emily Smith, Managing Director at AVW Fabrications Ltd believes that “We have the skill here, we just need to retain it. Employers need to change the perception of manufacturing so that people don’t think it’s just standing in front of a machine.”

Sajjad agreed that businesses “need to change the perception of manufacturing away from the ‘sweatshop’ image.”

To attract more people into the manufacturing industry, Adam Clarke suggested that manufacturers should “give their factories glass walls and let people in so that they can understand the skills that are required.”

Peter Chandler agreed that businesses should “shout about what’s great about the sector and the city more as young people initially look to bigger cities but once they experience a placement here, they realise what Leicester and Leicestershire has to offer.”

Sue Tilley added that the LLEP’s Innovation Hub aims to “highlight and shine a light on the great things happening locally.”

Skills and education

The second session focused more on skills and education within the local manufacturing sector.

Anna Cyhan, Economic Growth and Investment Officer at the LLEP mentioned the Careers Hub that “links employers to schools to help businesses open their doors and convey the world of work to young people.”

Jackie Bertram, Deputy CEO of Fashion Enter Ltd commented that “attending trade and job fairs was important to showcase what jobs there are available in the industry.”

Emily Smith, Managing Director at AVW Fabrications Ltd, Operations & Finance Director at Michael Smith Switchgear Ltd and Chair of ICAEW Manufacturing Advisory Group mentioned “shaping the curriculum about the value and opportunities of working with SME manufacturers.”

Jackie added that “the heart of UK textiles is in Leicester and we have an audience here who want to work in the industry. We need to support the industry to be ‘future fit’ and the demand for careers is huge.”

She continued: “Technology is making manufacturing evolve. There are jobs now that weren’t there in the past. Apprenticeships and training programmes provide a pathway for professional development.”

Emily concluded: “Digitalisation and new technology is creating a pivotal change with new people coming into the industry. Businesses must re-focus the way that they work.”

The panellists also discussed inclusion and diversity within the manufacturing workplace. They agreed that businesses should collaborate more to thrive and be a strong voice, advocating manufacturing in Leicester and Leicestershire.

The future for manufacturing locally

Sandra Wiggins, LBV board member and Managing Director of DPI UK Limited commented: “Manufacturing is the LLEP’s largest sector with around 55K people and covers industries from textiles to aviation. With the rapid pace of technology, manufacturing is evolving and this brings many more opportunities for the region. We should shout louder and prouder about what we do!”

Chris Hobson, Director of Policy and External Affairs at East Midlands Chamber, who facilitated the panel discussions, said: “It was wonderful to have such a great array of manufacturers – and those that support them – in the room. Manufacturing is such a central part of Leicestershire’s heritage, but more importantly, we need it to be an integral part of our future too. It was therefore great to be able to share ideas around how we can support the manufacturing sector with the right promotion, skills and incentives to succeed. Taking the energy from that discussion and putting it into practical support is now key for the sector to continue to thrive in Leicester and Leicestershire.”

Hannah Williamson, Head of Product Compliance at boohoo group plc, said: “It was great to host the event at our Thurmaston Lane site and be a part of these really important discussions. Leicester has a lot to be proud of and we want to help get that message out there and encourage other businesses to invest in the city.”


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