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A Glimpse at the Future of Manufacturing in Scotland

18 Oct 2017
John Martin



“Who’s Silicon Glen?”

This was the whispered appeal of a deeply perplexed young STEM graduate called Katie* during a routine candidate meeting at Eden Scott HQ.

Was he a myth? A legend of Scottish electronics manufacturing so skilled some say he could solder a PCB with his feet? Or was he just the creation of a lonely plastic surgeon without much work to do?

As a long-toothed warrior of industry in this country you might consider this a show of blasphemous ignorance; an insult to what was, and still is, a significant period in Scotland’s rich manufacturing history! But Katie is not ignorant. Katie is a 1st class Master’s graduate in Optics and Photonics and her response to my throw-away reference is perhaps symbolic of a new generation’s blinkered gallop towards new beginnings – a new technological coal face right here in Scotland.

A major plan to create thousands of new jobs in the central belt’s flourishing technology sector was recently revealed. Acting as a blueprint for development, the plan addresses “vast potential in the region for growth in enabling technologies, which covers fields including electronics, sensors, photonics, industrial biochemistry and quantum technologies”. Known as The Science and Innovation Audit (SIA), the plan was produced by a consortium led by Glasgow Economic Leadership and chaired by Strathclyde Principal Professor Sir Jim McDonald.

Strathclyde, Heriot Watt and Glasgow Universities were all partners in the consortium and helped to outline plans which would see the enabling technologies sector double in scale over the next 10 years. The report sets out a vision for a 3% annual increase in productivity across manufacturing and infrastructure sectors. The initial growth would be observed in the central belt, but could be implemented across Scotland and the UK more broadly. It also envisions creating an internationally recognised cluster of enabling technology growth companies in the central belt.

A lot must happen before this well formulated plan can be realised. However, there is real reason to be positive about the changing landscape of manufacturing in Scotland. In my position I have supported a number of these early-stage enabling technology companies. I’ve seen the investment and I’ve seen the growth. Even much larger, more established enabling technology manufacturers have seen unprecedented growth in technical production staff numbers. From large scale graduate intake projects to strategic board-level appointments and everything else in-between, I’ve been directly involved. What was apparent on each occasion was that all this work came as a result of growing business and further investment.

By making a nest for these ambitious enablers, and the highly skilled men and women who bring it all to life, Scotland’s manufacturing industry may very well see a significant resurgence on a level similar to Silicon Glen. We have long been reputed for our Universities, laying claim to some of the best STEM course provision in the world. Surely the hope must now be to retain a higher proportion of this talent by scaling up existing technology manufacturers and setting aggressive growth plans such as the one envisioned above. Should we do just that, then perhaps Katie’s generation will be the ones to help usher in a new golden era of manufacturing in Scotland?

In the meantime, someone needs to come up with a name for it…

*the subject’s name has been changed to protect her from unemployment.


John Martin
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