Dick Olver: 'We're actually really good at innovation. We need to build on that with manufacturing'

We need nothing short of a national re-evaluation of the role and status of engineering

Over the past year I've seen a huge swell of support for manufacturing – and it's incredibly exciting. Politicians and economists are embracing the idea that sustained and sustainable economic growth will be driven by a vibrant, competitive and growing manufacturing sector.

At last we're beginning to dispel the myth that Britain doesn't make anything. For me the facts speak for themselves. With 2.6 million employed in manufacturing in the UK, we remain one of the world's ten largest manufacturing nations and our overall manufacturing output is 56 per cent higher now than it was in 1990.

With due respect to the UK's world-class retail sector, we won't revitalise our global economic competitiveness by opening more shops. The only way our economy will really recover is if our high-value manufacturing and exports are maintained, galvanised and recalibrated. The quickest-acting and highest-octane fuel for growth in any economy is a strong export performance off the back of manufacturing strength.

The most important element of my manufacturing blueprint is putting manufacturing's growth-generating power at the heart of government strategy for economic recovery. This means applying a "growth test" to every major government policy or initiative and asking: "In what way does this contribute to the growth of the nation?"

The other vital strand of government strategy here is an ongoing and sustained commitment from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to furthering the UK's geopolitical and commercial interests. Every overseas order for innovative, high-value goods manufactured in the UK, whether in the automotive sector, aerospace, security or any other area, requires the reassurance that we are a global player with a real presence in the world. Our foreign policy and British business interests need to work harder and better together to help sustain the UK's influence and global "brand".

It is also clear to me that a strong and sustained rise in manufacturing exports will be achievable only if it is underpinned by world-class productivity, powered by high-value engineering skills and an education system which meets the needs of industry.

The manufacturing industry alone needs an additional 587,000 engineers and technicians by 2017, and this is just to stand still. To meet this demand we really need nothing short of a national re-evaluation and transformation of the role and status of engineering and other science, technology and maths disciplines. The UK requires thousands more young people in well-structured engineering apprenticeships and business-focused degree courses.

The final element of my blueprint is exploiting our nation's strengths. The UK is actually really good at innovation. We're a world leader in technology for Formula One, software, chips for mobile phones, and of course aerospace and defence technology. We're also enormously enabled by the fact that our language is the lingua franca of the modern world. Our legal system provides a very secure foundation for investment and we're also at the centre of a 24-hour global trading system.

I realise that playing to our strengths – and talking about them – is highly contrary to the British culture. But I am absolutely convinced that manufacturing is the key to revitalising our economy. Now is the time to embrace what we have and develop what we need.

Dick Olver is the chairman of BAE Systems

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 busi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Reach Volunteering: Trustees with Finance, Fundraising and IT skills

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses reimbursable: Reach Volunteering: St...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference