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A career in manufacturing

A career in manufacturing
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OK, so I started my career having left school. I had two GCSEs in Business and Finance, and Technology and Design. And I made a difficult decision at that stage to actually embark on an apprenticeship and not carry on academically. That was a big decision for me at the time. It wasn’t necessarily in line with a lot of advice I’d been given. But was particularly important to me because I had a passion for manufacturing. A passion to become something within industry. So I chose a more vocational path than perhaps others may have assumed. So I did a four year apprenticeship at what was then Rover, quickly became BMW group.
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And that was a technical apprenticeship based across Oxford and Swindon at the time. Following that, I chose to leave BMW and join a number of, I took a number of positions within the supply chain at tier one and tier two. And quickly found that that was more suited to my style. And that led me to my current position as operations manager at Wild Manufacturing. So Wild Manufacturing are a manufacturer of precision, high precision, high volume componentry. I look after about 150 people across customer service, logistics, production, planning, et cetera, within the factory. And we are currently about 50% to 60% exports in what we make.
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So we are a West Midlands manufacturer exporting into Europe and rest of world, and doing extremely well. OK, so in the role of operations manager, I think some of the key things that I’ve learnt is you need to have an understanding of many aspects of the business, unlike, less so into the engineering and quality, can be quite specific in their requirements, operational ability comes of being able to look at the entire process. And that’s not just your internal process, but that’s a much broader process in terms of your supply chain outside and towards the customer.
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If you can understand each element that stands you in pretty good stead to be able to make some decisions which aren’t necessarily easy decisions within business. But can have quite an influence on how the business is performing. And at operational level, the kind of decisions you’re making, are normally the decisions which have most influence. What that allows you to do is have a huge amount of influence. And that’s one of the particular things I enjoy about being an operations manager is that you can quickly, and very dynamically, change the direction and the shape of the business you run.
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I think one of the key pieces of advice I give lots of young people when they talk to me, and people who don’t necessarily work within the current environment, is there is a lot of people who will make moves toward large OEM big branded companies. I think one of the biggest things I can advocate is I work, and have worked, in a number of positions now, and will remain so, working within small and medium sized businesses. And although they’re very different in their size and their, sometimes their investment profile, they offer a very different kind of career path.
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And one I find personally is very flexible, very reactive, very quick, very agile, as opposed to some of the large OEMs, if you like, can be quite proceduralised and a little slower. So I would advise people, if that is more to akin to what your skill set is, to head towards the small or medium sized companies, and don’t rule them out necessarily because they’re not the big branded companies you’ve heard of. Yes, there is a clear benefit to doing an apprenticeship at a large organisation. They are normally structured and funded so that you can explore a lot of the business. You get a lot of training, a lot of development, a lot of exposure.
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Having said that, they do have some constraints. They are quite, they can be quite rigid. And they may not suit that person and they’re quite difficult to adapt and change. So they do have different benefits and limitations. But for me, personally, I found that incredibly, an incredible foundation from which to build my next role.

If you like to understand the breadth of the business, from the customer through internal operations and through to suppliers, making decisions with real influence, then you may wish to consider a role as an Operations Manager.

Sharing Charles Bamford’s passion for manufacturing, I fully understand the satisfaction he achieves from his role as Operations Manager, for Wild Manufacturing Group Ltd. Knowing that he wanted to work in manufacturing Charles opted for a more vocational route and did an apprenticeship with Rover/BMW group. Whilst there were benefits in terms of training, support and professionalisation from doing his apprenticeship with a large company, Charles felt more comfortable in the more dynamic and agile environment of tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers. He gained a lot from his technical apprenticeship and accelerated his career.

I experienced similar frustration to Charles with the procedures and bureaucracy of a large organisation. Having been sponsored from school by ICI to complete my engineering degree, 2 years after graduation I went to work for a smaller organisation. A SME as it was then Dyson. Like Charles, I enjoyed the opportunity to interface with the supply chain end to end, from customers through internal operations back out to the supply base. I would also concur with Charles that working within operations provided an opportunity to contribute to highly influential business decisions in a way I not envisaged.

We are not all the same, and Charles raises some really good points around ‘fit’. It is really important to know the type of working environment in which you thrive, and build a career around that. That could mean working for less recognised smaller companies that provide greater flexibility and scope than larger more procedure bound multi-nationals.

Talking point

  • How do you think apprenticeships contribute to the development of supply chain capability?
  • What type of organisational environment do you feel you ‘fit’ best into?
  • What’s the difference between an operations and supply chain manager?
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Supply Chains in Practice: How Things Get to You

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