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Britain's Booming Manufacturing Sector Builds New MBA Jobs

The UK's manufacturing industry is booming and the sector's employers plan to hire the most MBAs, while business schools also say demand has increased.

Lines of sand-coloured Eurofighter Typhoon airframes, complete with grey nose cones, sit propped up in the concrete bays.

Every couple of weeks a finished Typhoon rolls off the production line for shipping to the RAF or Saudi Arabia.

For more than three decades, British combat jets have flown through the assembly line in Warton, Lancashire. BAE Systems’ giant 302 hangar has been at the forefront of Britain’s manufacturing prowess.

The 120-meter long shack was once the most heavily insured building in Europe. The 5,000 workers who build the Typhoon jets are enjoying an industry boom not seen in 20 years.

Two other titans of the sector, Airbus and Boeing, are busy trying to fly trade at the biennial Farnborough International Airshow in Hampshire. The French and US plane makers, respectively, this week secured deals worth $75 billion and $40 billion.

The contracts underscore a manufacturing industry which is in rude health. The UK is enjoying potentially the biggest slice of the boom.

Output increased for the sixteenth successive month in June. Robust production growth has seen the level of incoming new business rise at the fastest pace since November 2013.

This has led to a feast of career opportunities within the wider manufacturing sector. Business schools’ careers departments report increases in demand. The figures bear out their claims.

The UK's domestic market remains the prime source of contract wins, but manufacturing firms report growth in new clients across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest defence giant, has been delivering jets to Saudi Arabia since 2009.

These companies continue to push into new markets. The subsequent rate of increase in new export orders has accelerated to a five-month high.

The Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI), an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector, was at 57.5 in June, up from 57.0 in May, the second-highest reading in 40 months.

Rob Dobson, a senior economist at Markit, says: “With levels of production surging higher, and order books swollen by a further upswing in demand from both domestic and overseas clients, job creation accelerated to its highest for over three years.”

The increased flow of business has resulted in manufacturing employment rising for the fourteenth successive month in June. Large-scale producers reported a solid increase to payroll numbers – but the steepest rate of job creation was registered by SMEs.

Job creation in the UK is now at a 39-month high. Much of that will be for undergraduates who have specialized in technical subjects such as engineering. But MBA and master students are expected to capitalize on this surge in demand, too.

Naeema Pasha, head of careers at UK-based Henley Business School, says: “Manufacturing is booming and we in Henley Business School are noticing a rise in vacancies from this sector. We have seen in particular growth in hi-tech manufacturing and development, food and pharma.”

She adds: “This is definitely a time for MBAs to capitalise on the range of job opportunities.”

But not everyone is convinced. Mark Davies, employer relations manager at London’s Imperial College Business School, says the school is not seeing the growth in the manufacturing sector translate into an increase in opportunities for MBA students post-program – yet.

“In the UK, it’s not a sector which has generally had a tradition of hiring from business schools – at any level,” he adds.

When GMAC’s annual employer survey was released earlier this year, it was not just the UK’s business schools who rejoiced.

The report, from 133 business schools and 600 employers in more than 40 countries, showed robust hiring demand across all industries. But none more so than manufacturing.

Nearly 90% of manufacturing employers planned to hire MBAs this year. The findings pushed consulting, pharma and finance to the back benches. The same manufacturing dominance was witnessed in their 2013 report.

Some 61% of them want to expand their customer base, 57% want to launch new products and 51% want to expand geographically.

“Growth in Britain’s manufacturing sector will provide exciting and challenging opportunities for MBAs,” says Jenny Portalska, director of postgraduate careers at the UK’s Cass Business School. “The opportunity to work at a strategic level within a growing sector is highly attractive.”

She adds: “Our MBA students are in demand from this sector; their proven business acumen, leadership capabilities and grounding in intellectual processes are particularly valued.”

It is not just business schools that trumpet the sector. Beatrice Bartlay, managing director of specialist staffing agency 2B Interface, says that there are huge opportunities for youth talent.

“Manufacturing and construction in particular enable people to gain specialist skills, and plenty of progression opportunities,” she adds.

These companies want to hire MBA graduates who are highly proficient in leadership skills, the report notes. Yet it is MBA’s stereotypical technical backgrounds which make them desirable.

In Europe, many MBA graduates come from engineering stock. At INSEAD, the French business school, 28% of last year’s MBA class came from an engineering undergraduate background – the second biggest chunk.

“Given that many of our MBAs will have a first degree in engineering or science, they are ideally placed to take advantage of this growth,” says Naeema from Henley. “The engineering professions point out that posts require both strong technical skills and commercial acumen.”

However, business schools are providing more than just a technical education. Cass’s Jenny says MBAs fit into manufacturing roles because of an increasing requirement for a global mind-set.

She says: “MBA students develop modern management capabilities through projects, case studies, simulation exercises and presentations. MBA students are encouraged to think creatively, collaborate, analyse and make challenging decisions.”

Rob Fleming had no idea that his manufacturing start-up would, in 20 years, bloom into an electronics juggernaut with operations in the UK, US, Asia and wider Europe area.

Yorkshire-based set-top-box maker Pace makes about $190 million in operating profit, a 23% increase on 2013. It expects revenues of around $2.7 billion in 2014, an increase of about 9%.

Rob, who co-founded the business, could barely keep up with the pace. His once-fledgling firm shares the ambitions of hundreds more promising upstarts across Britain – to drive the manufacturing sector to new heights.

It is the UK’s SMEs that have been growing the industrial base. It is also within start-ups that the most job opportunity lies. Rising SME headcounts have been witness across the region.

David Noble, group chief executive officer at the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply, says of the manufacturing industry: “Firms have enjoyed their best spell of output growth for 20 years, and in response have been able to boost employment even further... A rise in the number of jobs was seen across all sectors as well as across both SMEs and large companies.”

At Henley’s most recent SME Forum, recruiting for growth was highlighted as key priority for manufacturing start-ups.

“The SME sector in particular is seeing growth in these areas around the Thames Valley region that surrounds Henley, from micro company start-ups, to global medium-sized players reporting growth and [a] need for recruitment,” says Naeema.

At Imperial, smaller manufacturing companies have been looking for MBAs to come in as “executive assistants”, says Mark. “However, these opportunities are still rare and ad hoc.”

Part of the problem is that these firms are not seen as “sexy”. The industry does not share the same lustre as management consultancies or finance houses.

Manufacturing companies are also more likely to be located in smaller regional cities and towns, which may not appeal to globally-minded MBAs. There are also wider concerns about smaller pay packages.

Naeema says: “The traditional ‘MBA’ sectors of consultancy and finance are still looked-for, not least because of higher salaries.”

She adds: “Manufacturing employers should also do more to ‘sell’ the career development to MBAs – they really do get a good deal from taking an MBA graduate into their business. The 360[-degree] thinking and applied strategy will definably enhance most manufacturing organisations.”



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