Vanda Murray OBE, Chair of Marshalls plc (FTSE 250); Growth Company Board Member; Non-Executive Director at Manchester Airports Group; Pro-Chancellor at Manchester Metropolitan University

I have worked in the manufacturing, tech, engineering and construction sectors most of my career and my own experience has shown that they offer a huge range of opportunities. 

They are also vital to the northern economy. The manufacturing sector alone contributes almost a third of the North of England’s Gross Value Added (GVA), employing some 800,000 people[1].

I started out in marketing and export roles but over time moved into general management. I have always loved the work I do and as these sectors are highly professional environments, I also got fantastic training which has served me well throughout my career. 

It is easy to underestimate the importance of these sectors and what they contribute locally, regionally, nationally and internationally through exports, and also through their vast and complex supply chains. 

Made Smarter

Right now, in the North West of England, we are running a major initiative called ‘Made Smarter’ for manufacturers. 

The UK Government has put £20M into a pilot scheme to support manufacturing businesses to introduce digital technologies which will see them invest in their long-term future and improve productivity. 

The programme offers specialist support, match funding for investment projects, student placements and diagnostic tools and it is already starting to have a beneficial impact. It will continue to help businesses in the North West and the hope is that other regions will replicate the approach.

Fast moving sectors like tech, engineering and manufacturing need investment to increase efficiency, drive productivity and introduce innovative ways of working. The Made Smarter programme identifies projects to help grow a business and expand its reach. 

I am enormously proud that this pilot is taking place in the North West and look forward to seeing some great results.

Diversity

I am often asked what it is like as a woman working in the engineering and construction sectors and to have run manufacturing businesses. My answer is simple, it has been the best experience I could have hoped for - I have travelled the world and worked with and for some great people, manufacturing was undoubtedly a great career choice for me. 

I accept that women are currently underrepresented in these sectors – women hold 25% of manufacturing jobs and just 14% of construction jobs in the UK,[1] but for me that is a cultural and societal barrier rather than a lack of aptitude or skills.

It has never been my experience that women particularly lack confidence, ambition or ability and I know that they can thrive in any sector. However, where women are underrepresented, it is often the case that the prevailing cultural norms are male. The answer is to identify and understand these issues which over time become barriers to women’s progression and to break them down. 

We must endeavour to create a level playing field for men and women of any background and ethnicity so that we can all realise our potential. This is particularly important in sectors which are facing a skills shortage and an increasingly ageing workforce.

It starts with recruitment and removing unconscious bias. It means providing the right training and mentors for people at different stages of their careers. It means businesses putting in place the right support for young families – paternity and maternity leave and flexible working practices that allow for childcare or support for elderly relatives.

Increasingly, businesses are adopting new ways of working such as agile teams of multi-disciplined people who focus on specific projects.

To succeed, employers and employees must understand an organisation’s purpose be engaged in its fulfilment.

This is the way we all want to work. Here in the North we are working hard to make that happen.

I am proud to sit on the board for the Growth Company, an award-winning social enterprise that supports businesses and individuals to grow. They offer a wide range of integrated services, from apprenticeships and training, through to organisational development support which can help you to develop talent within your business.

Twitter: @vanda_murray 

[1] Make UK & BDO Regional Outlook 2019 https://www.makeuk.org/insights/reports/2019/09/20/regional-outlook-2019

[2] Women and the Economy, House of Commons Briefing Paper CBP06838, 8 March 2019
http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06838/SN06838.pdf