From apprentice to Operations Director in a 38-year career
What’s your job like?
As the manufacturing director for this site, it’s very challenging. There’s a lot of responsibility not just regarding the management of people, but from the perspective of overseeing investments that will help improve manufacturing efficiency and product quality. My role looks at operational performance, efficiency, quality, delivery, and cost control.
We’re a manufacturer of robotic lawnmowers with 242 full time employees on site as well as 750 temporary employees to manage the seasonal nature of our business. As a business we’re growing and we’re looking at Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) solutions to help us meet the demand. We can’t afford to just continue to grow our temporary workforce, so we need to invest in automation.
There will be investments in data gathering so we can make informed decisions and incorporate tools to predict when machine maintenance will be needed. We want to make sure we’re making the right 4IR investments and choosing the right technologies. That’s why we’ve created a pilot assembly line so we can try out different equipment and see what works best for us before rolling it out across the business.
How did you get into this career?
I started as an apprentice 38 years ago at this site, though it was a different company then. My ambition at that point was to be a draughtswoman, but I took a keen interest in programming and software development. The opportunities were huge in this area in the early 80s, as that was the time when the first robots were being introduced into manufacturing.
I then progressed to become Engineering Manager, then moved into production where I managed the moulding shop for a few years. These roles gave me a good background in manufacturing for when I moved into the position of Manufacturing Director 10 years ago.
What do you enjoy about working in manufacturing?
Every day is a new challenge, with new problems to solve and new ideas to try. I like to do things a bit differently and generate new ideas. We have a great culture here where we aren’t afraid to try to new things, and I try to contribute to that myself. We want to work collaboratively, with transparency and a desire to succeed.
One thing I’d like to incorporate into our culture more is to share more of our successes outside the business. Sometimes with the day-to-day challenges of manufacturing, you forget to publicise what you’re doing to the wider community.
What challenges have you faced?
The skills gap is one of our main challenges. We’re trying to recruit more technical people and engineers. That’s the reasoning behind our apprenticeship programme that we continue to develop; we plan to take on six new apprentices this year.
We need universities to encourage more young people into careers like automation engineering. It’s time for more people to be trained in those disciplines. Due to the pace of change within the business it is a huge challenge for us with the resource we have, and therefore need more good Engineers and Project Managers.
What advice would you have for young women thinking about manufacturing as a career?
Engineering is the right career for anyone who has a desire to solve problems and make a difference.
Some people might not have the perception of manufacturing as exciting, but with all the changes that are happening in the industry with automation and robots, I think it’s one of the most exciting times to be in this field. I love robots! They are making such clever equipment these days that it’s unimaginable what they’ll be able to do in the future, so for young people just entering the industry, this is a very exciting time.
So why let lads have all the fun!