The UK is home to many world-class engineering and technology companies, from automotive to software, but our industry is seldom celebrated as such nationally. Last year’s sporting and royal festivities proved that we can actually be proud of our country in a state capacity but what about on an entrepreneurial or company level also? I believe that the engineering and technology sectors would particularly benefit from a positive PR injection on both a domestic and international level.
On behalf of the UK tech sector, I am most envious of the kudos and prestige given to technical and engineering excellence in Germany. If only some of this could rub on the UK population, we might be able to increase our attractiveness to investors from both and home abroad by perhaps 25%. However, changing mindsets is not easy and will take time.
I find that the national news is especially to blame with promulgating the negatives and this can be crippling for future business ventures and developments. Indeed, the recent story of a £330 million investment into AstraZeneca’s new drug research and development facility in Cambridge was overshadowed by the resultant job losses in the press.
We need to build our international reputation for technical excellence and quality to match Germany and Japan as this will inevitably attract more investment into the UK. In order to do this we especially need to get our own country to understand that we do already have pockets of technical and engineering expertise to match that of Germany and Japan.
Let’s not forget the role of the organisations themselves though. Employers must foster a culture of belonging, pride and purpose similar to that which can be found in companies like Volkswagen where all of these can be seen and felt in abundance. The company’s commitment to improve employee work-life balance (Volkswagen limit email functionality after 6:30pm) echoes the “work hard, play hard” culture of the country as a whole; and as we know from German stereotypes, quality and efficiency is seldom compromised.
I believe that because of the transient nature of our workplace employment - especially in large companies whom see particularly high volume turnovers – individuals within an organisation are often akin to traded commodities, with no means to make their mark. This fuels the “It’s just a job” mentality we so often hear from ‘Joe Public’ and can be crushing innovation wise.
Indeed, we should be instilling a culture of seeking ‘the best’ rather than a ‘that will do’ approach. Take Land Rover for instance. Back in the 1970s and 80s, Land Rover had top class designs but as a result of perennial under investment they were poorly executed in terms of build quality but fast-forwarding to the present (after a number of overseas acquisitions by BMW, Ford and now Tata) a world-class brand now also has a world class product, its largest market being China and whose 2013 product range already sold out in February for at least the next year.
We can only hope that the UK can be incentivised by industry success stories and usurp new government opportunities, such as Tech City which has drawn 1,300 businesses and the £100 million investment into the Start-Up Loans scheme for young entrepreneurs. Hopefully this will help to accelerate a change of mindset that will follow in time.
Rob Crowther is Senior Manager at KPMG in the UK