Mike Matthews

Mike Matthews, MD of Nifco

Certainty in uncertain times

Mike Matthews, MD of Nifco, is cautiously optimistic about the future and says skills must be top of the agenda.

If the end of the year offers time to reflect on achievement, then the start of the year is when we set new targets and outline aims for the 12 months ahead.

Like every other business in every other sector of every other shape, size and specialism, Nifco continues to eagerly await news of how the Government intends to tackle Brexit and the UK’s departure from the EU. While it is vital that we start to see genuine progress from the negotiations and a pathway to a successful Brexit, I think we can remain cautiously optimistic that the quality and strength of our key sectors - automotive prime among them – have the potential to help ease the route to continued trading with the EU, by far our largest overseas market.

While Brexit is something we can no longer influence, we can prepare and plan for it as more details emerge. However, there are equally pressing issues that the automotive and wider manufacturing sector must seek to address in 2018 – primarily skills.

One of the things I genuinely look forward to at Nifco is welcoming the latest cohort of apprentices. I was an apprentice and most of Nifco’s senior management team are time served apprentices – it is something we are incredibly passionate about.

I had the pleasure of spending some time with our latest recruits - a toolmaker apprentice, maintenance technician apprentice, two polymer technician apprentices, and another working in logistics and supply chain. Their enthusiasm is fantastic and one of the best parts of the job is seeing them progress through Nifco from raw green recruits, to very quickly equipping themselves with the knowledge, skill and experience to succeed.

And this pride is something I want more businesses to experience. At Nifco, we take our responsibility of training the future workforce incredibly seriously, but we need more firms in the manufacturing and engineering sectors to do likewise.

Along with chemical and pharma, automotive provides the bulk of our excellent export performance and supports tens of thousands of highly skilled jobs. But as an industry, we are facing a genuine lack of craftsmen and women such as toolmakers, mechanical maintenance technicians and production engineers, which is caused by a dearth of firms training apprentices.

Without doubt, addressing a potential skills shortfall should be the number one priority across all of manufacturing and engineering in North East and across the UK. 

While we are recruiting the future of Nifco and the industry as a whole with these exceptionally talented young individuals, other firms must do more to engage in the skills agenda and explore the opportunity apprenticeships provide. The time is now for firms to start making the right moves to futureproof our sector, for it to remain the foundation stone of the regional economy.

So, my message to our industry is a rallying call to implore more businesses to begin providing apprenticeships – I guarantee that very few will regret the decision.

Our industry is a powerhouse of the regional economy. Nissan UK supports more than 7,000 jobs and for every role at Nissan, four exist in its regional supply chain. Likewise Nifco is a key ecomomic driver for the economy, we announced in the summer that turnover had increased to more than £70m, after eight years of consecutive steady, measured growth.

While growth is great, we cannot be complacent or take for granted our ability to continue growing, and long may it continue.

The North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA) published a study that proved the sector generates sales of over £11bn annually in the North East and directly employs over 30,000 within the manufacturing companies and supply chains linked to automotive.

Despite the uncertainty of Brexit, the NEAA is predicting the industry will grow by more than £3bn by 2021, which has the potential to create around 5,000 new jobs.

Manufacturing is no longer seen as the “muck and muscle” heavy industry it once was. We all operate in cleaner, tech-focused environments – something that we are successfully communicating to the younger generation planning their future careers.

We work hard, but we also work smart. The drive for continuous improvement, or kaizen, is embedded in Nifco’s, and many other companies’, working practices. We don’t rest – we’re constantly looking for areas of development, niggles to iron out in the process and new innovations that will make us more effective and efficient.

The North East is home to automotive titans – and these giants of industrial innovation and endeavour continue to provide the certainty this region needs in a time of great uncertainty.