Manufacturing Task Force sets out ambition for the future

Mid and East Antrim’s Manufacturing Task Force (MTF) has set out its plans to grow and support the manufacturing sector in the area for the months and years ahead.

The MTF was established in 2018 to help companies and key stakeholders in the sector to work together to address issues and create opportunities such as improving innovation, productivity and skills development. Its role grew during the pandemic, with the public-private sector initiative playing a pivotal role in ensuring members were supported with a tailored business support service including webinars on finances, marketing, grant information and advice and the repurposing of the BuySupplyni portal to source and supply key PPE and safety materials to get back to work.  During this time assistance was offered to over 1,600 businesses.

Graham Whitehurst MBE, Chair of the MTF, explained more: “Collaboration from a diverse range of skilled and innovative manufacturing and engineering firms across MEA and the wider region has been key in supporting local business.

“And despite the very challenging environment that manufacturing companies have been operating in, there is a definite need and demand for a skilled manufacturing workforce.”

Over 60 companies and stakeholders are represented on the MTF, these companies represent over 8,000 employees across the Borough, with external funding of almost £1m secured for collaborative projects and programmes in the past two years alongside an additional in-kind contribution of £500,000 from MTF members since its inception.

Not only has diversification been key to success, but it has also influenced the MTF’s priorities for the future.

Through the body’s skills subgroup, the focus is on training to provide the skills for key sectors now and in the future.  Recent Council initiatives implemented include a welding academy, HGV driving academy and a pilot manufacturing academy – fully funded by The Gallaher Trust – and delivered by Northern Regional College.  Future plans include further manufacturing academies, a focus on Apprenticeships, encouraging greater female representation in this sector and schools engagement via the Brian Cox Science Summer School.

In the last year there has been a move to development of the Cleantech sector within the Borough. Graham added “Mid and East Antrim is cementing its position as a hub for SME innovation and commercialisation activity and a springboard for the future of the cleantech growth sector and industry.

“Through the recently launched Hydrogen Training Academy and a range of other initiatives, such as the plans for investment in the £23 million i4C Innovation and Cleantech Centre at St Patrick’s Barracks and the announcement of £15 million joint funding with Queen’s University Belfast for hydrogen initiatives, our ambition is limitless, enabling Northern Ireland to maximise the opportunities associated with hydrogen as an emerging sustainable energy solution,” he said.

As part of the Academy’s project activities, the University of Birmingham has delivered a bespoke ‘Train the Trainer’ programme to academic and industry stakeholders on Hydrogen Production. This will see stakeholders become trainers and develop and deliver accredited Level 3 training which is only the first step in the process. The ambitious plans include educational partners working together to develop a Level 7 postgraduate certificate in hydrogen power as well as hydrogen CPD courses.

The MTF’s Digitalisation subgroup, has been investigating the opportunities Industry 4.0 presents on a collaborative basis as well as how productivity can be improved at company level.

Mr Whitehurst continued: “Simply put, digital transformation is a critical component of many industries, particularly manufacturing and engineering. Demystification of robotics, immersive technologies, blockchain, big data, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are all key  to further enhancing the social and economic prosperity of all, not only across Mid and East Antrim, but for Northern Ireland plc as well.”

Graham concluded, “Four years of the MTF has created significant change in our Borough, the collaborative work has created a strong foundation for our future focus which will now centre on Skills, Digitalisation and Cleantech to ensure that Mid and East Antrim is equipped to grow not only the economy in our Borough but assist grow the NI Economy and help achieve the Net Zero Carbon targets which have been set.

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Mid and East Antrim Borough Council Now is the time - Embrace the opportunity