Time to not seek perfect, but to do what's right

Stephen Kelly addresses delegates at the Anchor High summit at the Lough Erne Resort
Stephen Kelly

This month our organisation brought together 90 manufacturing leaders for our first leadership summit at the Lough Erne Resort entitled 'Anchor High'.

Supported by KPMG, Barclays, Pinsent Masons and Invest NI, it was a chance for those who set the direction, those who are ultimately accountable for their businesses and the staff and customers who depend on them, to come together to explore their own leadership capabilities and the future of the workforce and manufacturing.

In these days of great uncertainty, it's never been more important to have great leaders. People with clarity, wisdom and determination. Those who can confidently make timely decisions, focussed on the things within their control that matter and with the strength of character to bring people with them.

We heard from leaders who were brave to chase opportunities and brave enough to admit they don't always have the right answers. Leaders who understand the requirement to compromise and by doing that, everyone can win rather than everyone lose.

It was a stark contrast from the current world of politics. Our manufacturers are pragmatic, conciliatory and understand business is a journey, not an event. They know they can't have everything they want now. Business, like life, isn't perfect and pure.

Nothing can be gained by being reckless. ‘Betting the house' on chasing something which you know and those around you know will be damaging isn't smart. Of course, if there's no personal consequences, then perhaps you'd have a different view of the world. What's happening now seems to be just that. Gambling on the future of our firms and the jobs which they sustain likely comes with little jeopardy to those who seek a pure political outcome.

Our leaders were also challenged on the need to change. Competitors are moving fast. Innovating, automating and introducing technology to increase productivity, win new markets and attract new people.

We heard from local firms who are leading the way. Changing the workplace and questioning old norms about what their industry is. And the results speak for themselves. More diverse workforces have a 21 per cent higher profit, are more innovative and more attractive to talent.

But we also learnt about how the need to reach out to do more to ensure their skills needs are met. Some 47 per cent of the workforce would not consider a career in manufacturing, 30 per cent don't understand careers available and just six per cent of 16-to-23-year-olds are contemplating a career in the sector, despite wages well above the average and wage inflation running from 5-16 per cent in parts of the sector.

Our firms need to be more visible. Results from NI Statistics Agency last week showed that the manufacturing workforce had grown to more than 86,000 direct jobs, which is above employment levels in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crash.

There is scope for more jobs, but that will require leadership, ambition and belief by both our entrepreneurs and by our politicians and policy-makers.

Creating the right conditions in our businesses and in our economy will bring significant benefits for communities across the north. It's time to not seek perfect, but to do what is right.

:: Stephen Kelly ( is chief executive of Manufacturing NI ( Twitter @ManufacturingNI

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