Tag Archives: UK


CITE – UK Innovation in Engineering

CITE - UK Innovation in Engineering

Some good firms at CITE, all that I spoke to innovating and showing the way forward:


Platipus – A family firm providing water drainage solutions: landslide prevention, stabilising vineyard water levels, shoring up wall structures eg bridges and London Underground, stabilising electricity pylons. Employing females? Applicants accepted on attitude as well as skills, full training provided. But a lack of female applicants – are universities attracting sufficient numbers of women?


BattCables: A cable importer and distributor, selling designated lengths to cable installers in conurbations, eg city office blocks, from mains to office desk. Female employment is on the rise, perhaps now 80:20, but a lady representative said “the best opportunities for females are in marketing and sales”.


TenCate: A new synthetic underlay for rail track: better durability, reducing track maintenance overheads. Employment of female consultants has risen from 5-10% years ago, now standing at better than 30%.


CACI: Smart graphics to show employee productivity, still to discuss the advocacy of training for those employees who are struggling. Other uses included showing managers where whole team productivity is struggling, and geographic hot spots identifying “unusual behaviour”.


Webro: New splicing kit, manual not powered, 12% of the cost and no downturn in operational execution. Recent female employment included two females, one in marketing one in sales. Still no great technical skills among women. They experienced considerable overheads and costs employing these personnel, and are as yet to encounter the usual recruitment agency pitfalls, including tick box recruitment and the very rare ability to pick on positive attitude rather than simply skills.


BROKK: Radio controlled demolition machines: significant risk reduction in risky conditions, including construction on the Channel Tunnel.


Swann Engineering: A British firm, making standard and bespoke telephone masts and high level tech fixings. They are taking back assessment and replacement of some less robust masts produced cheaply in Europe when the rush to provide coverage began. On employment, they are collaborating with Southampton University, including student sponsorship, and this includes one female currently under the apprenticeship scheme. One of Swann’s issues continues to be ambivalent NIMBY’s: avid mobile users but keen to avoid telephone masts in their locality, who thereby disrupt the planning and installation processes needed to change foundations or exceed the 15m “standard” height limit.


NTS Premier Services: They train about 25 people a week through one of their service provisions to go into National Rail as effective employees. This includes Health & Safety, which on a railway service is both critical and extensive, and also general education about some of the complexities staff are likely to encounter. Also a responsible employer, prepared to give staff a chance to shine despite previous mistakes. Women are gradually coming into the rail workforce, and NTS Premier staff even encourage their own family to join up and get a job “on the rail”.


Light Green Power: A power unit 70% lighter than it’s diesel equivalent. A little more expensive, taking the diesel paraphernalia into account, and slightly more on running costs if the cost of diesel stays static. On man power though, only needs 2 to deploy, as opposed to 6, a significant saving. Some light here on female employment: installation’s often a hot, smelly job, which takes a special kind of woman to like!


DWG UK: Among other products, they provide a fast fix resin that runs into concrete joints and fixes the concrete, even in hair line fractures. Also great for fixing railway sleepers and road surfaces.

Besides these, there are many other suppliers to the telecoms and rail and road and construction industries. So go along tomorrow, as the 22nd May 2014 is the last day.


Why UK Universities Must Tear Down Their Ivory Towers

As an experienced business adviser, and having worked for some twenty years in blue chip UK corporates, I know how important it is in business to connect with the world around us.

And I’m also very focused on why the UK doesn’t perform as well as the US, in terms of getting start ups from concept, through seed, and into mainstream business, or crossing the chasm as it’s known.

Doing some research, I discover that today, all mainstream US universities are engaged in quite high levels of business investment. In the UK, that’s restricted to only 4 universities, mainly the usual suspects, of course.

The other feature I note from first hand enquiries is that some universities are very dismissive about “outside knowledge”. They seem to feel that they know best. This has a number of damaging effects.

Firstly the world changes very rapidly today. We see the advance of social media on many fronts: social enterprise, social capital, social recruiting, social selling. How can UK universities keep up with the real world if they stick to an insular “we know best” approach ?

Secondly, students graduating from university need to be better prepared for the real world. In the UK, we know that employers constantly bemoan the need to “re-train” graduates in real world skills.

Yes, universities are very good at analysing business, and pulling out trends that businesses would do well to heed. But this analysis is often three years or more out of date. So how can graduates be ready to hit the ground running given such a constant broil of change.

And too many UK universities still haven’t even really cottoned on to one of the biggest trends coming out of social media, the desire to meet and talk on topics of mutual interest. And particularly where this might involve customers !!

These can be opportunities to meet the local community, business or civic, and find out what business or civic needs are. Such meetings might help highlight the fact that engineering graduates are in short supply in the UK. Ridiculously, this can be in the same city that an engineering university resides.

The other benefit from integrating better with the outside world is the feedback startups can get. Ideas may or may not be business worthy, but it’s very important to understand the market that any start up proposes to enter, and the more feedback a founder can get from experienced business people, principally about markets and customer buying behaviour, the better.

So UK universities had better realise the bubble they are creating, about the level of their own ability to prepare students for business, either as a start up or as a corporate citizen, is, like all bubbles, a dangerous thing for all participants to believe.

The first step to puncturing this UK bubble is to tear down the ivory walls, eat a little humble pie, and find local business people who can connect them with modern day skills, activities, tools and techniques.

#UK: New “employee-shareholder” #employment status – a pro-risk move

The proposal for a third type of employment status has been playing a game of ping-pong back and forth between the lower and upper parliaments in the UK.

Risk Versus Fairness
At stake has been the protection of employment status and rewarding risk for those joining a new Start Up, most likely in the Technology sector, with much debate aimed at preventing exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

Start Ups are intrinsically risky, and the UK is traditionally highly risk averse. So this bill seeks to change a fundamental characteristic of the British way of life. Namely to encourage risk taking, while retaining “British fairness”, the latter being a factor which has made and still makes UK law the “best in the world”.

Employer Scruples & Moral Responsibility
Now there is still an implied moral responsibility on employers to reward the risk taken by employee-shareholders in as short a time as possible.

Any employer taking this type of employment contract beyond 18 moths, and certainly 2 years, risks being seen as unscrupulous. Social media now provides an unparalleled platform for comment, and it is highly likely that unscrupulous practice would soon become visible.

Product Driven Start Up Boom ?
Equally, there is a pressure for large employers to produce new products quickly and effectively, and the ability to do so could well be a critical measure of how well companies compete in a global marketplace.

It may well be that this new legal status encourages larger UK companies and UK business angels to diversify more, and set up more new companies on a product by product basis. This could accelerate the trend for corporates to shrink, as well as the ability to launch new product and compete on the global stage.

Inadequate Start Up Infrastructure
As such, the infrastructure in the UK is as yet inadequate to support such a step up in entrepreneurial activity, although awareness is growing.

The UK does not understand as well as the more mature US market the value of support services provided specifically for start ups, where experience can be brought in from outside a raw start up to help fill the gaps caused by lack of business breadth and experience.

This is particularly perceived to be true true at the Start Up stage, but also still true as Start Ups seek to break through the early adopter stage and become a mainstream UK business entity.

So there could be a lag between the bill being finally passed, and a noticeable uptake in the option for this type of employment, and any national ability to compete on the world stage.

HMRC Tax Avoidance Vigilance
In the event that a product driven boom in Start Ups is evidenced, expect HMRC to look carefully at ways  that “Tax Avoidance” schemes make use of the provisions, which I believe exempt employee-shareholders from Capital Gains Tax on the first £50,000 worth of share holdings. Following which HMRC would no doubt crack down on schemes that defeat the spirit of the bill, if not the letter of the wording.

Giving it Time to Work – UK Law at its Best
No doubt, over time, some of the wording of the bill may prove to be inadequate, the English  language being what it is. But then expect the UK to come back and redress the loopholes. It’s just the way we are.

It is this attitude that makes UK law the best in the world: the understanding that we want to be fair, and allow all every chance to proceed and take part, yet allowing for the way the world  is changing so rapidly, and recognising the need to compete adequately on the global stage.