Encouraging a new generation of manufacturing leaders: The importance of mentorship

Written by John Cameron, Managing Director of CB Technology

07 October 2022

The manufacturing industry is responsible for more than 169,000 jobs in Scotland and the potential exists for that number to grow substantially, as we embrace the era of robotics, artificial intelligence, sensing technology and the space sector. While the Scottish government has committed to invest £116 million by 2026 to further advance Scotland's position in global manufacturing, there are other measures that the manufacturing sector itself can take to ensure a healthy pipeline of new talent within the sector, thus securing the future robustness of the industry. 

The value of apprenticeships
Offering apprenticeships and putting in place a mentoring scheme for the next generation of industry leaders are both crucial steps in attracting young people into our industry. It is important to adapt the way we approach training to ensure that knowledge and experience is shared, learned from and built upon. 

In 2021, CB Technology made a long-term commitment to take on at least one or two apprentices every year as part of its company policy to develop the young workforce. This is critically important as we need to develop and protect the skills that will continue to make Scottish manufacturing progressive, innovative, and competitive within the global environment. Our apprenticeships are carried out in conjunction with further education, typically one day per week at college, and therefore apprentices follow a formal path which blends together academic study and workplace development. 

On-the-job learning is supported by those who work in the business, for example, team leaders or managers, as well as through the specific guidance of their functional mentor who is fully qualified in the role the young person is doing their apprenticeship in - this might be test engineering, process engineering or finance, for example. The academic and hands-on aspects of the apprenticeship role are aligned and complement each other in terms of developing and accelerating both new and existing skill sets. 

Leveraging experience
Personally, I have been lucky to undertake both formal and informal mentoring throughout my career. I was an apprentice in my early career, and within that apprenticeship structure I had access to support from experienced and skilled workers. This early-stage guidance was invaluable in helping me understand the wider context of the workplace and the specific requirements for becoming a skilled tradesman. 

Later in my career, as part of a formal process within a multinational company, I was allocated a series of mentors who guided me at various stages of my development, such as my initial managerial role and my first overseas posting. 

The insight and guidance I received from those who had ‘already walked that path’ was so significant to me that I am today very supportive of CB Technology actively participating in initiatives that develop the young workforce in Scotland. 

The CeeD mentoring programme
As a member of CEED - the Centre for Engineering Education and Development - we are committed to the development of the engineering workforce within Scotland. We believe that providing today’s developing talent with access to senior, experienced leaders in the industry will accelerate their development and help safeguard the future success of the industry.

The CeeD mentoring programme is delivered in partnership with Skills Development Scotland and invites each member company to submit one mentor and two mentees; mentees are assigned a mentor from another participating company with whom they have one-to-one meetings with the aim of providing valuable perspectives on how to progress their careers and navigate challenges in the workplace.

As a result, promising employees benefit from engaging with Scotland’s top leadership talent. In turn, the mentors have an opportunity to learn from emerging talent while passing on their experience and knowledge - enriching the sector workforce and developing a new pool of leadership potential for the future.

The CEED mentoring programme pilot involved me personally mentoring developing talent from two other companies, while CB Technology’s lead test engineer, Ryan O Kane, was mentored by a senior leader from another business. As a younger employee with great potential at CB Technology, Ryan’s participation in the mentoring programme was another step on his career development journey and a valuable enabler to his continued growth trajectory. 

Boosting your business and Scotland’s manufacturing
As a membership organisation focusing on peer-to-peer best practice sharing in Scotland’s engineering sector, CeeD offers Scottish manufacturers the opportunity to access the vast amount of knowledge and experience that exists within the sector. I would encourage other companies to take part in this programme — mentorship from industry leaders enables fast tracked learning and development that increases the value that employees can deliver to your company as well as Scotland’s manufacturing workforce as a whole.

It’s clear to me that on-the-job learning in conjunction with ongoing education, as offered by our apprenticeship scheme, and participation in the formal mentorship programme offered by CeeD are equally valuable for attracting, nurturing and securing engineering and business talent here in Scotland’s manufacturing industry. 

CB Technology will continue both to participate in the CeeD mentoring programme and implement our traditional apprenticeship scheme. This dual approach allows us to attract and develop a skilled and confident workforce while remaining competitive globally and developing the future leaders of our industry.