I ended my last blog by setting the scene of a nation who had fallen from ‘manufacturing-grace’, and that I felt in no small part, personally responsible!

So why did (and still do) I feel this way?

That’s simple. In 1973 I left school and joined British industry as a craft apprentice at British Aerospace (then BAC) in Weybridge. At the time we were manufacturing the magnificent Concorde, and I was excited and proud to be joining what I was regularly reminded was the ‘best workforce in the world’. We had reason to feel this way, as we were still considered to be a high-quality manufacturing giant, with the heritage of the Industrial Revolution in our past, a succession of individual engineering innovators at our helm, and a reputation so strong that it was still considered that you could ‘put a Union Jack on it’ and it would immediately be better, and so ‘worth the extra money’ purely for that reason.

But what we hadn’t realised……..nobody had, is that by that time we had become complacent, lazy and disengaged, and were very much now ‘living on our reputation’.

Perhaps worst of all was how disengaged we all were, from just about everything!

We felt no part in our businesses success or failure, and didn’t feel it was important, or necessary to put the right amount of work into our days to produce the right amount of stuff to sell to our customers at a price they were prepared to pay, and if we could get away with doing little or nothing, we considered that to be a small victory over our own management!

We were highly skilled, no doubt about that. Our apprenticeship programmes were still first-class and continued to churn out a seemingly endless supply of ‘skilled men’ to make the products that the world looked to us to supply, but we had failed to notice that we were suddenly not alone in the manufacturing world, and were under challenge for the markets that we had traditionally felt to be our sole preserve. Worse, the challenge wasn’t from the more traditional quarters such as USA, Germany and the other ‘developed’ nations, but places not normally associated with manufacturing to any standard, much less to the levels that we felt the world expected, and only we could service.

We therefore initially viewed the emergence of manufacturing in the Far East and Eastern Europe with some distain, feeling that their feeble attempts to challenge our supremacy were scarcely worth our scorn……..although we obviously provided that in abundance!

We derided their very existence, we laughed loudly at their ‘poor’ quality, we poked fun at their homespun attempts at doing the things we did, and had done for hundreds of years, to the very highest of standards.

All of this we did without having the first idea of the REAL situation.

Attitudes began to change and harden when it became apparent that these interlopers were actually succeeding in luring away some of our customers, initially at what we perceived to be at the ‘lower end’ of the market. “Let them have the ‘cheap and cheerful’ end of the market” seemed to be the way people were thinking, as they will clearly be no real threat in our ‘high quality’ areas of specialisation. 

But the march continued.

To be continued……………………….