While companies of all shapes and sizes have endured a tough year, Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, speaks about the highlights of an industry at the core of our local economy
There’s no hiding that 2019 was a difficult year for our manufacturing sector, and Northern Ireland business more broadly.
Brexit uncertainty, an absent Stormont and major shocks to some of our most well-known manufacturers seemed to dominate and define the past 12 months. Between the new Executive still finding its feet and Brexit being nowhere near ‘done’ (despite what the Prime Minster might say), a lack of certainty undeniably still exists for NI businesses.
But it would be wrong to characterise our manufacturing sector as all doom and gloom. We directly provide over 89,000 jobs and indirectly sustain a further 130,000 across Northern Ireland, we export an estimated £8.3bn in goods and products, and we are Northern Ireland’s second largest sector in terms of economic output.
As a sector which is the bedrock of our regional economy, our impact is hugely significant and absolutely vital to households across Northern Ireland.
Manufacturing Month is a new and unique initiative by Manufacturing NI to showcase the excellence and strength of our regional manufacturing and engineering sector. During the month of March, there will be a series of innovative events, business breakfasts, seminars, tours, and a flagship leadership summit held across Northern Ireland which will address the key challenges for the future of manufacturing in Northern Ireland and map out a vision of the sector as we enter the new decade.
Delivered in partnership with KPMG, Siemens, Willis Towers Watson, Invest NI, Pinsent Masons and Barclays, Manufacturing Month will bring together leading manufacturers, policy experts, schools and young people, and other business leaders to highlight the strength of our local manufacturing industry while also mapping out our future course and creating new opportunities for the next generation of manufacturers and engineers.
Put simply, Manufacturing Month is a celebration of the great people who work for great local companies, producing great products used locally and globally. It’s about amplifying the talent of our local workforce and the truly cutting-edge goods and services produced in Northern Ireland by world-renowned manufacturers.
Northern Irish manufacturing is multi-faceted, evolving, and developing at serious pace. We have a long and rich heritage of manufacturing excellence in this part of the world, one which we are rightly proud of, and one which is spoken of in glowing terms the world over.
But it’s time for manufacturing here to be more confident and assured in our current successes. From food processing and medical and pharmaceutical industries to aeronautical technologies and new, emerging tech like AI and machine learning, we have every right to be proud of our ingenuity and innovation.
There is no doubt that there are serious challenges facing our sector. But they can most effectively be tackled by a collaborative, joined-up approach where manufacturers come together to exchange solutions, share best practice, and stand together for the benefit of the entire industry.
Issues around skills and training, high energy prices, business rates, and the need for an industrial strategy for Northern Ireland are not unique to manufacturing and engineering.
They are, however, challenges which can be addressed if they are faced head on by manufacturing leaders who show ambition and imagination to upskill their workforces, attract further investment, and continue to innovate and grow.
So, let 2020 be the year we reclaim the headlines of negativity and uncertainty and loudly proclaim to everyone the excellence and strength of Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector. π
If your business is expanding, introducing new and pioneering processes, launching a new product, or training new apprentices, please visit www.manufacturingmonthni.com