Making the most of manufacturing

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THE Chancellor may not have given the manufacturing sector any specific help in his Budget, but the Prime Minister's recent utterances and the leaking of a Department of Trade and Industry report have combined to make it an important subject for debate. Now that the Government has shown it might be listening, the lobbying has begun in earnest.

Of course, some have already been labouring away on manufacturing's behalf - not least the Cranfield Institute of Technology.

Manufacturing may not be recognised to be a significant source of competitive advantage, but research last year confirmed that, even after the development of the service economy, it is the largest investment in capital and people that industry makes.

In an attempt to allow the sector to realise its potential, the institute, which supplies 35 per cent of UK post-graduate engineers, has developed a strategic management fellowship for executives, to be seen as a development activity for the company rather than the individual.

Because it is modular and project-based, the course 'does not distract executives from the business but instead focuses them on their company's manufacturing potential,' Cranfield argues. In addition, the emphasis is on counselling, rather than teaching or tutoring.

Acknowledging that the problem of lack of investment in productive assets in this country is a long-standing one, John Collins, Cranfield's design and advanced manufacturing group director, said there were two sides to it.

First, companies often did not see the need for such expenditure; second, managers on the technical side of the operation did not see themselves in central, strategic roles. 'While they gripe about the situation, they don't position themselves so that they are considered as important as the others.'

In the same vein, Mr Collins argued that it was not good enough to blame all their problems on the short-termism of the City. Problems in their own field should also be addressed. 'We're trying to demolish some of the sacred cows in manufacturing and technological management itself - as well as change board- level attitudes,' he explained.

Aimed at executives, typically aged 35 to 50, with access to the board, the programme will deal with such issues as manufacturing capability, markets and marketing, financial strategies and organisational development. It will also include an overseas study. It is stressed that it is not akin to an MBA.

Senior executives are being sounded out through a series of seminars centred on Mr Collins' paper, Manufacturing as an Asset. 'We're trying to get CEOs to see it as an investment - an essential part of a company's training portfolio.' The cost, including the foreign trip, is about pounds 18,000 per participant - 'petty cash compared with marketing,' according to Mr Collins.

(Photograph omitted)