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Leeds Manufacturing Festival 2024: expanded programme of events addresses recruitment and future skills challenges

Harry Clark, apprentice at Leeds fibreglass moulding firm MPM

The Leeds Manufacturing Festival returns this month with an extended, year-round programme of events highlighting career opportunities for young people in the region’s manufacturing sector. Now in its seventh year, the festival is designed to raise the profile of the industry in the city, promoting the wide range of careers on offer, and building relationships between employers and schools and colleges.

Dozens of big-name manufacturing and engineering businesses, from Sulzer Pumps and Kirkstall Precision Engineering to air conditioning manufacturer Airedale International and iconic textiles producer AW Hainsworth, are involved in this year’s festival, which has become a cornerstone of many firms’ new talent recruitment strategy.

Ben Wilson, director of Leeds fibreglass moulding manufacturer MPM and festival chair, said: “Last year’s festival was a runaway success. A really engaging programme of events made a tremendous impact in boosting young people’s awareness of the vast range of career options that our vibrant manufacturing industry offers, and we now have more employers, schools and colleges taking part than ever before.

“Building on the momentum we have created, this year our programme will be even bigger and better. With a focus on best practice, skills development initiatives, careers advice and apprenticeships, we’re aiming to go even further towards addressing the issue of recruitment and future skills which remains the primary challenge for manufacturing employers.”


West Yorkshire is home to around 5,600 manufacturing firms employing over 104,000 people and Leeds is the UK’s third largest manufacturing centre by local authority area. Leeds city region boasts the UK’s largest manufacturing employment base, generating £8.26 billion a year, 14% of the region’s economic output.

This year’s festival will launch at Leeds City College’s Printworks Campus on 22 February. High-profile keynote speakers, Steve Burnell MD of Boeing Defence UK, which employs over 2,000 people across its sites in the UK, and Fiona McGarry from manufacturers’ organisation Make UK, will top the bill at the event, with contributions from both employers and younger people working in manufacturing.

Highlights of this year’s festival programme will include a Manufacturing Careers Showcase, bringing employers together with students to talk about the wide range of roles involved in a manufacturing business. A focus on the best West Yorkshire employers currently offering engineering apprenticeships will see the launch of a new Excellent Employers directory, and the new three-A-level-equivalent ‘T level’ technical qualification will also come under the spotlight.

In June, an expanded Leeds Manufacturing Festival Awards will once again celebrate the achievements and talent of some of the most outstanding younger people working in the industry, with new categories announced to further extend the reach of the awards.

Fiona McGarry, Make UK engagement manager, said: “The latest figures show British manufacturing has risen from ninth to eighth in the world industry rankings in the last year, currently accounting for nearly half of all UK exports, employing 2.6 million people in this country and with a £224bn output. Yet, despite the fact that manufacturing jobs remain among the best paid across the whole economy,
recruitment and attracting talented young people into the industry continues to be the number one problem facing employers in the sector.

“That’s why the Leeds Manufacturing Festival plays such a vital role in successfully showcasing the fantastic well-paid careers that are on offer in this vibrant sector, to school and college students who are at the stage of making important decisions about their future.”

The festival launch event on 22 February will also feature a panel of industry experts taking audience questions. The panel will include Adam Tipper from manufacturing apprenticeships benchmarking organisation, Next Gen Makers; Mitch Scott from Leeds City College; festival chair Ben Wilson; and Matt Booth, associate director at specialist manufacturing industry recruiter E3.

Tyra Jones, who joined Sulzer as a mechanical engineering apprentice in 2016 and is now a planning team leader with the firm, and Cameron Pinder, who is in the second year of his level 3 advanced manufacturing apprenticeship at Kirkstall Precision Engineering, will also take part and will share their manufacturing experience and reasons for choosing careers in the industry.