Former BP boss Lord Browne of Madingley also appeared at the IOD convention to reprise his call for more engineers.
A thought-provoking report that received little attention this week suggested that the sector's problems are bigger than anticipated.
Research by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte estimates that 10 million manufacturing jobs are unfilled because of a skills gap. Manufacturing firms that want to recruit can't, because the quality of applicant is not strong enough.
The problem runs far deeper than graduates without basic literacy and numeracy skills. Preparing an engineer for the world of work takes years of training, not months.
The report is a stark reminder that not only do we have to breed engineers, but we also have to compete to attract and keep them in Britain.
It's research like this which should be used to convince the powers that be immigration caps will blunt our growth prospects, not sharpen them.