Skills Development in Manufacturing: Addressing the COVID Crisis and Beyond

Skills Development in Manufacturing: Addressing the COVID Crisis and Beyond

Wickland Westcott has worked with a wide variety of manufacturing businesses over the last 40years and remains a flag bearer for the sector. We recently spent time with Colin Gordon, a senior director with extensive experience within education and manufacturing, talking about the impact of COVID-19 on training and skills development in industry, and the importance of manufacturing to the UK’s long-term prosperity.

Colin began by expressing concern that the manufacturing sector has been seen as the ‘poor relation’ in the UK over recent times, impacting its attractiveness to entry level workers. Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating and terrible impact on people’s lives, one positive thing has been the enhanced profile manufacturing now has in the UK. People increasingly see the value of having domestic capability and the ability to not only manufacture and assemble in the UK but also to have our own local supply chain. Colin sees this as the silver lining to the current pandemic that could kick-start both support from the government and also interest from young people to join the sector, leading to the resurgence of manufacturing as a vital part of our economy in the years ahead.

However, whilst recognition of the importance of local manufacturing is positive, the impact of the current crisis on training and skills development is not. Many manufacturers are struggling to pay their staff and keep their heads above water: indeed, for many businesses just being around when things go back to ‘normal’ is the over-riding priority. As such, the emphasis has moved from longer term training and staff development to reducing costs, preserving cash and generating revenue in line with short term demand.

Companies have stopped taking on apprentices, and Colin pointed out recent statistics showing that there has already been an 80% reduction in apprentices being engaged. This is despite a raft of Government initiatives – i.e. furloughed apprentices can carry on training as long as they don’t generate income or carry out other work.

As we emerge from the crisis, organisations will be considering how they can take advantage of new situations and operate in different ways. This will include adopting new technologies to improve efficiencies and, in some cases, supplying such technologies to other organisations and new markets.

But changes have also had to be made to training delivery. Training delivery within manufacturing was poorly prepared for the impact of the virus and had previously not seriously considered alternatives to classroom training. As such, there will undoubtedly be an increase in the use of technology-driven training including digital and online delivery as well as incorporating emerging learning opportunities through AI and augmented and virtual reality moving forward.

So, does that mean the end to classroom-based training? Colin thinks not and that it still has an important part to play in providing an effective blended training experience. There has been, and will continue to be, a need to look at how individuals learn most effectively and the most reliable delivery method of achieving this. Some learning is best carried out in a physical group, where peer-to-peer learning through interactivity, discussion, and group exercises are important. Additionally, it can be challenging to continue to be fully engaged in technology-based training as it requires more intense concentration and focus, and you miss the social interaction and engagement with your tutor and fellow learners.

There is also a risk that the way a lot of training has been delivered during the pandemic (often last minute and via video conferencing tools such as Zoom) will have an impact on its long-term effectiveness. Whilst this was a needs-must approach, and very welcome due to the circumstances, it ought to be considered when looking at longer term skills development strategies. Technology-led training can be effective, but it needs to be thought through, planned, and delivered with the same level of detail and attention as has previously been the case with more traditional methods.

If the recession is as bad as some forecasts are predicting, this could have a long-term detrimental impact on investment in training. Companies that survive will then need to look at their market, what they are selling, and how they will be manufacturing it before they can determine the skills they need to do so effectively.

So, what role can the Government play in this? Manufacturing covers a relatively small part of the UK economy but it has been shown throughout the pandemic to be really important. If we want a more robust and long-term sustainable UK manufacturing sector, we need to invest in it so that we are better prepared both for any future economic challenges and as a basis for sector growth and subsequent career pathways and opportunities. We also need to look at areas such as how technology in different sectors can be utilised in manufacturing to reduce costs and improve efficiency, and then look at the skills required and the most effective ways people can be trained.

Areas we need to look at from a macro level include:

  • How do we make sure that career opportunities in manufacturing are shown to be exciting and valuable, and remove the traditional view and perspective?
  • How do we address the challenges of reliance on overseas suppliers and transportation infrastructures and create a viable home-based supply chain?
  • How can technology be used effectively? How can we find better ways of showcasing and cascading manufacturing innovations to all parts of the sector and raise everyone’s level at the same time?

Now that the country is taking steps to move out of lockdown we are seeing further pressure on the government to support skills and sectors that have been identified as critical over the past few months, with many MPs lobbying the government to support the manufacturing sector. On 15th July, a cross party group of MPs and business leaders published an open letter to the Prime Minister calling on him to back manufacturers to lead Britain’s economic recovery and to ask him to ensure that a significant amount of the £600 billion pledged by the government on major infrastructure contracts is awarded to British firms, something they feel should be easier post-Brexit.

Added to this is the fact that the recent mini-budget introduced initiatives to help stimulate manufacturing jobs and skills, including a £2bn Kickstart job creation scheme aimed at encouraging 16-24 year olds into work. The Chancellor is also investing £111m to triple the number of traineeships, with businesses offered £1,000 for each trainee they take on (although the grant will be capped at 10 jobs per business). Additionally, businesses will receive up to £2,000 for every new apprentice under 25 they hire and £1,500 for every new apprentice above 25, along with an extra £32m in funding for the National Careers Service (which is expected to benefit around a quarter of a million young people).

These initiatives are very welcome in enticing young people to enter and remain in the sector through training and apprenticeships and can certainly deliver longer term benefits. We need to be mindful, however, of other issues such as reskilling of older workers or developing skills pathways to help prepare our young people with the skills for future jobs which may not yet have been defined.

In conclusion, the crisis has demonstrated to the wider public how exposed we might be if the manufacturing sector declines any further. If we want to be able to stand on our own feet, we need a new manufacturing sector based on effective deployment of technology, with a continuous stream of exciting young talent equipped with the mindset and skills to deliver the future.

If you are in a business looking at how to put together and implement a training or skills development strategy or review your current plans, please contact Keith Butler at Wickland Westcott at or Colin Gordon.

Gordon is a highly experienced senior executive, having worked within the U.K.’s education sector for many years. He has worked and consulted with a wide range of education providers and businesses across many sectors and private sector, public sector, not-for-profit Trustee, and Private Equity Funded businesses. He is passionate about improving opportunities for learners and the success of U.K. Business plc.

Climbing the Servitisation Ladder – The Leadership Challenge

Climbing the Servitisation Ladder – The Leadership Challenge

Wickland Westcott recently engaged Alec Gilbert, a Business & Services Growth Consultant – – to explore the organisational and leadership challenges associated with evolving from supplying products to a service-led model.

Servitisation refers to the shift from supplying products to the delivery of service-based outcomes – i.e. product as a service – a growing trend across many manufacturing businesses. Good examples include Rolls-Royce who contract with the airlines on a ‘power by the hour’ basis and Xerox who adopt a ‘pay per use’ model. Both organisations realised the value of providing through-life support, which generates significant income through aftermarket services whilst enabling them to form deeper, more strategic relationships with customers. Benefits to customers include increased reliability, lower overall cost/total cost of ownership (TCO), reduced operational complexity and improved cash flow.

Modern day equivalents include streaming services – i.e. Netflix and Spotify – enabling customers to access services previously delivered in product form, and servitisation is now being widely adopted by a variety of critical equipment suppliers.

Alec, who has developed a proprietary change model, described how “most manufacturing organisations start with their products and climb the servitisation ladder: Product > Reactive > Preventative > Proactive solutions > Business optimisation”.

The evolution relies on digital technology to generate data and the systems/knowhow to leverage it for predictive/prescriptive purposes but this only represents a small part of the challenge; the ‘Disciplines of Market Leaders’ (Michael Treacy), suggests that successful businesses need to focus on one of 3 core disciplines:

  • Customer Intimacy – combining detailed customer knowledge with operational flexibility to create the best total solution for the customer
  • Operational Excellence – controlling processes to effectively deliver best total cost to the customer
  • Product Leadership – selling the best product on the market

However, servitisation suggests that you need to increase the focus on customer intimacy whilst retaining competence in both operational excellence and product leadership. Therefore, “the hardest part of the journey is the last 2 or 3 steps, which require a cultural shift as the focus of the business moves from ‘our product’ to ‘our customer’.

From a leadership perspective, Alec identified the creation of a clear vision and strategy, consistent communication and reinforcement, and leadership by example – ‘doing the right thing – as key considerations. The strategy needs to place significant emphasis on:

  • Aligning the organisation around the customers’ needs, creating a customer-centric culture
  • Upskilling the organisation capability to deliver a whole life solution and focusing on the customer benefits of the solutions
  • Integrating the organisation to deliver a consistent solution to customers, not just fragmented silos of manufacturing and services

“This cultural shift requires organisations to develop new capabilities it may not have developed as a manufacturer. Successful outcomes also vary according to the strength of the customer relationship; deep trust, aligned goals and a basis for managing risk are important considerations here”.

Alec highlighted the following types of skills that need to be developed as an organisation moves up the servitisation ladder:

  • Customer focus: seeing the world from the customer’s perspective; having a deep understanding of the customer’s business and being able to innovate improvements
  • Teamworking: the ability to work across internal silos to create new solutions. Also, the ability to create effective teamworking with key customers in order to build trust and understand their business needs deeply
  • Entrepreneurial curiosity to seek new opportunities that are driven by customer needs, not just the ‘internally focused’ approach of selling what is made
  • Planning: moving closer to customers offers better visibility of their pipeline, which can reduce the demand ‘surprises’ that might catch out the business. However, the service offered will get more complex and ambiguous, and the customer pipeline timing cannot be fixed with certainty
  • Proactivity: not being satisfied with the current performance; seeking ways to improve the business either for customers or internally; co-creating long-term plans with customers to drive shared value
  • Digital Competence: All the servitisation pioneers have used information and connected technology to achieve a higher level of service delivery, tailored to the customer’s individual product needs. This is an important, emerging skillset.

Therefore, the real challenge is to deliver a business-wide cultural shift from a siloed, internally focused manufacturing organisation, into an externally focused, customer-centric integrated organisation that can use information better than its competitors or customers to deliver unique, value-adding solutions. Whilst data is an important enabler for the approach, creating new capabilities and behaviours in the organisation, in addition to new services and solutions, are the biggest hurdles to success”.

If you are in a business embracing servitisation or undergoing similar digital change, please contact Jerome Bull, Director & Head of Search or Alec Gilbert to learn more.

Case Study – Octavia – Recruiting a Key Role in the Social Housing Sector in Lockdown

Case Study – Octavia – Recruiting a Key Role in the Social Housing Sector in Lockdown

Inspired by its founder, the social reformer Octavia Hill, Octavia provides thousands of people with affordable homes in inner London. Octavia engaged Wickland Westcott to identify, evaluate, assess and recruit an Assistant Director of Housing Management for them in February of this year. This was a critical hire and it was important to employ a leader who could continue to build on Octavia’s transformation journey to becoming a more commercially focused organisation whilst maintaining its core values of providing high quality services for its residents and the wider community.

Inspired by its founder, the social reformer Octavia Hill, Octavia provides thousands of people with affordable homes in inner London. Octavia engaged Wickland Westcott to identify, evaluate, assess and recruit an Assistant Director of Housing Management for them in February of this year. This was a critical hire and it was important to employ a leader who could continue to build on Octavia’s transformation journey to becoming a more commercially focused organisation whilst maintaining its core values of providing high quality services for its residents and the wider community.

A further challenge was that, not long after the assignment commenced, the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed, so traditional face-to-face methods of assessing candidates could not be employed.

After meeting with the Director of Homes, Care & Community to get a detailed understanding of what the role involved, Wickland Westcott carried out a comprehensive search to identify target organisations and engage with potential candidates. The reputation that Octavia has meant that it was not difficult to get people interested in the opportunity. However, the challenge was to assess their suitability, motivation and approach. As well as having a strong track record in providing high quality services to customers, Octavia were looking for somebody with enthusiasm, creativity, positivity and the capability to help them drive through changes in systems, processes and culture.

From an initial potential longlist of twelve (including two internal candidates), all of whom were interviewed by Wickland Westcott’s Consultant, eight CVs were forwarded to Octavia. This process took longer than planned as three of the original list either contracted the COVID-19 virus or had related symptoms during this stage of the process. We also asked the candidates to carry out a psychometric test to help assess leadership style and the ability to operate flexibly and creatively within a regulated environment.

Whilst the original plan was to put the recruitment on hold until after the crisis, the hiring manager decided to have initial telephone conversations with the candidates to keep them engaged. However, the high quality of these conversations resulted in them being extended to hour long calls and acted as the first stage of the formal assessment process. From this, we short-listed 4 candidates who then delivered a presentation to a panel of Octavia stakeholders and completed a timed written test to assess their report writing capability. We also took verbal references with previous employers.

By utilising a combination of assessment tools, we were able to identify two very strong final candidates who had the required technical capability and, as importantly, the right approach. One of these candidates was offered and accepted, and Wickland Westcott supported him through the joining process.

A reference from Sarah Shaw, Director of Homes, Care & Community, is as below:

“Keith really took the time to understand exactly the type of person we were looking for, digging way beyond the job description and person specification. The shortlist was exceptionally strong, with a broad range of experience across the diverse candidates and gave us the luxury of more than one appointable candidate. At every stage there was friendly and professional support and advice on hand, covering all stages of the selection process. I would highly recommend Keith and Wickland Westcott.”

Inspired by its founder, the social reformer Octavia Hill, Octavia provides thousands of people with affordable homes in inner London. Octavia engaged Wickland Westcott to identify, evaluate, assess and recruit an Assistant Director of Housing Management for them in February of this year. This was a critical hire and it was important to employ a leader who could continue to build on Octavia’s transformation journey to becoming a more commercially focused organisation whilst maintaining its core values of providing high quality services for its residents and the wider community.

A further challenge was that, not long after the assignment commenced, the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed, so traditional face-to-face methods of assessing candidates could not be employed.

After meeting with the Director of Homes, Care & Community to get a detailed understanding of what the role involved, Wickland Westcott carried out a comprehensive search to identify target organisations and engage with potential candidates. The reputation that Octavia has meant that it was not difficult to get people interested in the opportunity. However, the challenge was to assess their suitability, motivation and approach. As well as having a strong track record in providing high quality services to customers, Octavia were looking for somebody with enthusiasm, creativity, positivity and the capability to help them drive through changes in systems, processes and culture.

From an initial potential longlist of twelve (including two internal candidates), all of whom were interviewed by Wickland Westcott’s Consultant, eight CVs were forwarded to Octavia. This process took longer than planned as three of the original list either contracted the COVID-19 virus or had related symptoms during this stage of the process. We also asked the candidates to carry out a psychometric test to help assess leadership style and the ability to operate flexibly and creatively within a regulated environment.

Whilst the original plan was to put the recruitment on hold until after the crisis, the hiring manager decided to have initial telephone conversations with the candidates to keep them engaged. However, the high quality of these conversations resulted in them being extended to hour long calls and acted as the first stage of the formal assessment process. From this, we short-listed 4 candidates who then delivered a presentation to a panel of Octavia stakeholders and completed a timed written test to assess their report writing capability. We also took verbal references with previous employers.

By utilising a combination of assessment tools, we were able to identify two very strong final candidates who had the required technical capability and, as importantly, the right approach. One of these candidates was offered and accepted, and Wickland Westcott supported him through the joining process.

A reference from Sarah Shaw, Director of Homes, Care & Community, is as below:

“Keith really took the time to understand exactly the type of person we were looking for, digging way beyond the job description and person specification. The shortlist was exceptionally strong, with a broad range of experience across the diverse candidates and gave us the luxury of more than one appointable candidate. At every stage there was friendly and professional support and advice on hand, covering all stages of the selection process. I would highly recommend Keith and Wickland Westcott.”

COVID-19 Crisis is Accelerating Boardroom Changes

COVID-19 Crisis is Accelerating Boardroom Changes

New Street Group research which shows how the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating the number of board changes is quoted in the Financial Times this morning.

You can read the FT article here.

Our analysis of announcements by UK stock market listed businesses shows that there were 232 board changes in April 2020, compared to a monthly average of 206 changes over the previous two years. We are also seeing a similar trend in May.

Major businesses like Royal Mail, easyJet, Aston Martin and Purplebricks are among those to change their CEOs and CFOs in just the last two weeks. The number of changes at the top in the real estate sector is particularly notable.

The economic impact of the “lockdown” has forced businesses to assess whether their boards have the right mix of skills to respond to the new challenges of the pandemic.

The challenges of leading a business during a time of crisis are often very different to the challenges of growing a business during more benign economic conditions. Our study shows that boards are bringing forward succession plans and accelerating the pace of change to make sure they are able to respond to the crisis.

We’re now seeing skills like restructuring, cost management, risk management and financial planning & analysis at a premium. Senior executives and non-executives who have experience of leading businesses through the last financial crisis are in great demand.

We’re even seeing some positive changes, like executives being released from their gardening leave clauses earlier than they would normally. This allows them to get to their new employer quicker to help fight fires.

If your business needs help in getting the right blend of skills and experience on the board to deal with the crisis and recovery, we’re here to help. Get in touch to discuss your requirements.

UK Head of HR – Medical

UK Head of HR – Medical

Part of an established international group, this rapidly growing and highly entrepreneurial organisation designs, develops and manufactures a range of innovative medical device products. The company, which invests heavily in R&D, has a broad product portfolio with several key differentiating brands, providing the basis for further profitable growth. The UK business was seeking a high calibre HR professional to lead the local HR function whilst collaborating as part of the Global HR team.

The brief was to search for successful generalist HR leaders with the ability to support the ongoing growth and evolution of the company with a bias towards OD, leadership development, change management and the promotion of a high performing culture. Therefore, the emphasis was on the identification of candidates combining high levels of strategic/business awareness with a strong delivery orientation, and the commercial acumen to contribute as a valued member of the local leadership team.

The search covered multiple sectors with a bias towards progressive customer-focused companies, and candidates with a balance of strategic and operational HR experience. The process, which yielded a high-quality shortlist, was all delivered remotely under Covid-19 ‘lock down’ conditions and required particularly careful client and candidate management. Specifically, it was important to give candidates exposure to multiple senior stakeholders, providing insight into the culture of the organisation, whilst ensuring transparency about the anticipated impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the business. The successful candidate offers a great fit with the requirement bringing relevant experience across the financial services, manufacturing and consultancy sectors along with significant onward potential.

Post the conclusion of the assignment, the client offered the following comment:

“I have been delighted to work with Jerome who has been a great support to look for a talented HR Manager for Urgo Medical UK. Despite a very challenging and unprecedented time, Jerome has perfectly understood our need, our culture, our values and our level of expectations. Jerome’s progress report was regular and very clear. The shortlist of candidates met the brief and we have been very efficient to identify the right candidate. He finally convinced the candidate to join us and I am sure Jerome will do on boarding follow up. Thanks a lot for your support Jerome!”

Operations Director – Manufacturing

Operations Director – Manufacturing

Backed by a private equity partner, this international group designs, develops manufactures and installs bespoke engineered solutions on behalf of a wide range of customers. The business, which is acquisitive and in growth mode, was seeking an experienced operations leader with the capability to run two local sites and the potential to step up and run the UK entity.

The local business is going through significant change including the introduction of a new ERP system, the adoption of lean working practices, ongoing restructuring and the appointment of a number of key senior hires. Therefore, the brief was to identify candidates with the capability to deliver improvements across the supply by working through others whilst brining unity to a newly formed leadership team. Given the functional structure of the group, the appointee would also act as local GM with leadership and P&L responsibility for the UK subsidiary.

The search targeted candidates with a strong operations pedigree and a track record gained delivering sustained performance improvement in a similar engineered products environment. The assignment required close collaboration with the members of the PE house, group COO and local stakeholders to ensure a positive outcome under ‘lockdown’ conditions. The appointed candidate is an Engineering graduate and Six Sigma Master Black Belt with experience gained in continuous improvement, operations and general management roles with a world-leading global business. Extensive referencing helped confirm his capability and suitability for the target job and enhanced GM role.

The appointed candidate offered the following comment:

It was an absolute pleasure working with Jerome and Wickland Westcott. From an unsolicited call to Jerome, he quickly established what I could offer potential employers, as well as what I was looking for. Once he identified an opportunity, he progressed it quickly and efficiently, keeping me updated throughout the process. Jerome, thank you again for your support and I would be delighted to work with you in the future.

We’re excited to announce we’re rebranding…

We’re excited to announce we’re rebranding…

We will soon be New Street Consulting Group.

We’re excited to announce that New Street Group and its three businesses – Interim Partners, Wickland Westcott and BrightPool – will be rebranding this Summer. As part of our brand transformation strategy, our group name and brand identity will change from New Street Group to New Street Consulting Group. 

Why it’s time for a new name

We’re re-branding and consolidating our existing capabilities under one entity, to strengthen and differentiate our offer and provide intelligence-led solutions for both clients and professionals.  

As New Street Consulting Group, the heritage, expertise and decades of experience across our existing businesses come together as a unified proposition. We have diversified from our core offering to a range of complementary leadership and people solutions that enable clients to adapt, build and thrive in these challenging times. Our new name not only better describes what we do, but also how we add value.

Our vision is a talented future

Our vision is a talented future where people strategy and business goals are truly aligned: mission-critical teams have the agility and skills to achieve transformation faster, and the right leadership skills are in place to deliver in disrupted, dynamic sectors.     

As New Street Consulting Group, we will be offering clients smarter ways to solve their talent and business challenges, empowering them to think differently about senior, specialist talent, offering new ways to access, engage and develop high-performers. 

A new world of work is already here

The fast-emerging priority for businesses is the shaping of agile, upskilled teams that can achieve transformation fast.  

As New Street Consulting Group, we’re pioneering the ways in which employers can effectively measure the return on human capital investment, we’re creating new psychometric tools for talent assessment, and innovative services for total talent management. We are committed in helping both employers and professionals navigate the future world of work

You can expect the same superior service, and more

Interim Partners at New Street Consulting Group will continue to partner with its valued clients to provide interim management advisory services to support them through challenging periods, change and transformation. Wickland Westcott’s expertise in executive search, leadership assessment and development, and consulting will reform as New Street Consulting Group services. BrightPool, as a provider of solutions to help our clients solve their talent acquisition and resourcing strategies will change its name and provide agile talent solutions as part of New Street Consulting Group.  

Our new brand will be revealed this Summer…

We’re very much looking forward to revealing our new brand identity. Our new website nscg.com, social presence and visual brand signature will portray our new image, communicate our purpose, vision and mission as a future-focussed leadership and agile talent solutions provider.

Our group rebrand marks a significant milestone in not only my personal journey with Interim Partners initially founded in 2003, but the journey of New Street Group and the growth and achievements of its collective businesses.  

As we start this process, I’d like to thank the professionals, clients, suppliers and other key stakeholders in our network. Without you, our transformation will not be possible and we look forward to a successful and talented future with all of you.

Doug Baird
Chief Executive Officer
New Street Consulting Group