Thank you very much for the opportunity to address you on the topic of the importance of manufacturing for jobs and growth in Europe.
Manufacturing is key to our economic future in the EU. While the services economy has come to dominate in many regions and areas, even in my own region, the South East of England, with its strength in financial services, manufacturing still plays an essential role.
Indeed manufacturing is essential even for the future of this planet, since it will produce the new technologies and products that will enable us, I hope, to maintain our current living standards in Europe whilst tackling climate change and reducing pollution.
The recent financial crisis obviously harmed manufacturers, sometimes more than other elements of the economy.
Thankfully, growth now appears to be returning, at least in my own country, fuelled by cooling global commodity prices and slowly increasing consumer demand.
But in Europe we face many challenges when it comes to the promotion of manufacturing.
The first is access to credit and investment. We must do all we can to stimulate investment in productive economic activities- not least manufacturing- from the banks but also from non-bank sources, including governmental support where appropriate. It should not be forgotten that many of the real technological breakthroughs of the last century were supported by government, from the internet to GPS, and this may well be the case into the next century as well.
Furthermore, while some nations of the EU may have good mechanisms for promoting long-term investment, that is not the case in my own nation- and I hope that will change in the future.
We also need to promote connections between science and manufacturing. In this regard, I am particularly proud of the strong and virtuous links between universities, research institutes and manufacturers in my own region, the South East of England. One example is provided by the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, the only place in the world where nuclear fusion has ever occurred and a real hub for spin-offs which are adding substantial value to the local economy.
We need to protect the proportion of the EU budget allocated to research funding, and recognise that research funding is productive, and has strong links to the real economy, particularly manufacturing.
We also need to be alert to the unintended consequences of other EU policies for our research and concomitant manufacturing strength. One example is provided by the current debate around data protection, where measures designed to protect individuals from snooping by spies look set to prevent technological innovations like the use of driver data in smart cars and the development of personalised medicine.
Third, we need to improve our population's skill set in relation to manufacturing. A lack of appropriately skilled workers is one of the most frequently mentioned problems by small and medium-sized manufacturers in particular, as well as by IT and construction companies.
Of course, much of this can be done by national governments, when it comes to schooling, further education, on-the-job training and apprenticeships. There is EU support for apprenticeships, but I would like to see this become a more important element of the EU agenda. In countries like my own, mobility is a distant dream- if it is even contemplated- for the vast majority of young people, with only a small subset of young people taking part in schemes like Erasmus. The autonomy, creativity and skills developed by young people being involved in manufacturing in another country and then coming back home for the rest of their career cannot be underestimated.
In addition, trade unions have a huge amount to offer in encouraging the development of workforce skills and productivity, something I have seen occur just five minutes from my home, in the Oxford BMW factory which produces every Mini car in the world.
Finally, we need to think about encouraging new people into manufacturing. That includes more women in manufacturing, and looking outside the box for workforce development. One great example which I visited in my region is the 'Able and Willing' facility in Brighton. There, people with a range of disabilities are supported in work making signs and other promotional materials, gaining valuable experience and delivering good value and an excellent product to their clients.
To conclude, manufacturing needs an active industrial policy across Europe, focused on greening our economy and with a long-term perspective to build the skilled workforce that we need. Thank you.
This post is adapted from a speech given to the European Manufacturers' Association, EEF, on 24th September 2014.