The Midlands have given the world many great things over the course of British history – Shakespeare, baltis, international-class football teams to name just a few. But as well as this, the area is the manufacturing powerhouse of the United Kingdom and has continued to exhibit positive growth in the industry.
In the last five years or so, what factors have made the region so desirable for STEM companies?
Home to some 14,000 manufacturing and engineering companies, the West Midlands reported strong growth in 2016 and was only beaten in manufacturing exports by London and the South East of England, an area with a much higher proportion of wealth and international investment. One reason why the Midlands has managed to maintain strong growth in this sector is the fact that many of the firms are large, international companies such as Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and JLR. Development and expansion for these firms is helped by the financial backing of their global parent companies, and not only this but governmental tax reliefs and incentives are designed to keep these companies firmly on Midlands soil.
As well as large, lucrative companies, the many highly specialised companies have also been successful in spite of challenging global circumstances. These firms, such as the many F1 teams or suppliers of high-grade parts for the aerospace industry, are small in scale but are performing at the very highest level of their respective sectors, making them highly desirable for domestic and international talent.
Another key component is the increased efforts of both companies and the government to make STEM more appealing to students and to showcase the many amazing opportunities they could pursue in the Midlands. Outreach programmes by organisations such as Aston Martin, the team behind the Bloodhound Super Sonic Car, and many others have no doubt helped cultivate growing interest in the number of students pursuing careers in STEM and will continue to do so into the future.
But looking to the future, what do the prospects for growth in STEM in the Midlands look like?
One of the biggest potential boons for the region is the fact that aerospace manufacturers are looking to the British Isles as a testing ground for electric-propelled commercial planes. The rich aviation history of the country has made the occasionally clear British skies appealing to major manufacturers to test out these new technologies.
In the wake of World War II, disused airfields became ideal for the many car manufacturers and racing teams that sprung up in the 1950s. This large network of airfields within a stone’s throw of one another could be perfect for test-flights of electric passenger jets, as one of the huge teething problems that come with electric vehicles is a massively reduced range. Airbus and Rolls-Royce, aerospace companies that already have large facilities in the Midlands, are showing a keen interest in working towards making the air cleaner and could potentially be trialling aircraft in the next decade or so.
If the region does become a hot-bed for developing this new method of transportation, the opportunities for manufacturers and research companies in the Midlands could be huge and the same can be said for talented individuals working in STEM. Luckily, even though this could mean the skies above the area could become much busier, all of those flights will be ghostly silent.
With work expected to begin in 2026 and continuing on until approximately 2033, the High Speed 2 rail project is also set to change the climate of West Midlands engineering as the planned route is set to dissect the county. Should it go ahead, HS2 is likely to open up positions to rail workers and engineers in the region, as well as manufacturers of parts and infrastructure equipment.
The attitude towards the future for the production of cars for road and racetrack in the Midlands seems to be cautiously optimistic. Formula One development in the region shows no signs of slowing down, and the highest tier of motorsports will be continuing to push Midlands’ based teams further and further in the pursuit of technological excellence. When it comes to cars you’ll see outside Sainsbury’s rather than at Silverstone, Jaguar Land Rover’s financial future is currently stable thanks to the success of new models such as the F-Pace SUV and recently released I-Pace electric CUV. Luxury marque Aston Martin Lagonda became a public company for the first time, much like Ferrari did in 2016, and the company has been estimated to be worth £5 billion.
The future for manufacturing and STEM in the Midlands looks to continue to be bright, and the tide is beginning to turn for the UK’s manufacturing and engineering sectors as well. Hopefully, despite the uncertain economic climate, increased funding into STEM and British manufacturers will help to continue to attract talented individuals from all over the world and maintain the Midlands’ reputation as a melting pot of talent, skill and technological innovation.