News & Views

MakeUK enlists youthful support to create better image of 21st century industry

Above: XBlades Racing promotes the building and racing of novel drones and can awaken an interest among young people in design and manufacturing

Britain’s biggest trade body for manufacturing is launching its first large-scale event aimed at 16- to 24-year-olds, underlining how efforts to attract more young joiners are increasingly viewed as vital to the sector’s long-term prospects.

The format for MakeUK’s event in Birmingham on October 12 has been devised with the help of a 12-strong “culture council” of people in their late teens and early-20s, set up by MakeUK to ensure the agenda reflects this age group’s interests.

“Our message is that manufacturing is highly relevant [as a career] to young people with technical interests. If they want to have a positive impact on the world then manufacturing in its various forms gives them a great opportunity to do this,” says Mark Bernard, head of strategy at MakeUK.

The organisation has 5,000 member companies, a well-established apprentice training programme and strong links with government. It wants its Makers Meet event - which it hopes will attract 1,000 people – to become an annual fixture.

The launch marks a significant boost to long-running attempts by manufacturing to enlarge the sector’s talent pool and combat widespread skills shortages by selling itself more effectively to young people.

The ideas behind Makers Meet fit in with the strategy of Made Here Now, set up to promote a more positive image of UK manufacturing and assist in recruitment. MakeUK is a long-term supporter of the project, having been a sponsor since Made Here Now launched in 2014.

Makers Meet will highlight the idea that manufacturing in its 21st century guise covers a broad range of activities, from making traditional products such as power generators and ships, to developing new digitally enhanced devices such as miniaturised communications equipment for satellites. Analysing data from such devices for customers such as weather forecasters is becoming as important a source of revenue for some manufacturers as product sales. This illustrates how providing services is increasingly becoming an essential part of the way manufacturers operate.

Equally, careers in manufacturing can involve working for small start-up businesses as well as established companies employing thousands of people.

The range of activities touched on by manufacturing is much bigger than most people think, says Andrea Bull, head of next generation marketing at MakeUK.

Modern production can encompass new ideas in virtual reality, as illustrated by work at the High Value Manufacturing Catapult in designing components for nuclear power stations

“The fields where manufacturing is relevant extend to areas such as fashion and music. The job of our event will be to highlight the possibilities [in manufacturing] and broaden the horizons of the people who come to it.”

Makers Meet will feature presentations and “hands-on” workshops organised by small manufacturing businesses such as robot builder Hausbots – a company in Birmingham started by 21-year-olds Jack Cornes and Harry Smith. It will involve discussions by experts in social media and marketing and will look at how manufacturers can play a part in reducing use of material resources and energy while also creating wealth and employment.

Role models - the youthful engineering team at Birmingham robot builder Hausbots. Left to right: Mike Skitsas, Jack Cornes, Harry Smith and Jenna Luchak

“Our research has found that a lot of younger people are saying they are drawn to career possibilities in businesses with an interest in social responsibility and sustainability,” Bull says.

Other groups that will discuss what they are doing at Makers Meet include XBlades Racing, an organisation promoting the development of new drones and that also organises drone races, and Snapmaker, which produces 3D printing machines. Big companies that will play a part include the UK operations of Siemens and Schneider, two large international businesses with a strong British presence.

In the past, most big events in the UK aimed at generating interest in technical subjects among young people have focused on engineering in all its forms, rather than on manufacturing specifically – MakeUK’s chosen field.

The trade body has enlisted the help of other organisations – most of which have a broad engineering-based agenda – to help promote Makers Meet. These include the engineering charity Smallpeice Trust; EngineeringUK, a promotional body for the whole of engineering; the Semta engineering skills organisation; the Stemnet network for science and technology “ambassadors”; and Birmingham Tech Week, a series of events in the Midlands based around engineering and backed by groups including Barclays and NatWest banks.

The 1,000 people that organisers hope will come to Makers Meet are likely to be a mix of school and higher education students plus young people already in work, including some of the apprentices taking courses at MakeUK’s training centre in Birmingham.

For more information about Makers Meet and to book a free ticket, go to