For the past four decades, Paul Byard has been at the very heart of manufacturing in Wales.
Starting his working life as an apprentice toolmaker on the factory floor, Paul’s career has seen him help shape and lead Welsh industrial strategy throughout booms, recessions, financial meltdowns and global pandemics, as National Director Wales for EEF, Chairman of Commerce Cymru, Membership Director Wales for MadeUK, Board Member for Quality Wales and the Welsh Government Council for Economic Renewal, Chief Executive of MAS for Wales Programme – and now as Board Member for Manufacturing Wales.
With a Professorship and MSc’s in Total Quality under his made-in-Wales belt, Paul decided to step back into a hands-on leadership role 15 months ago, taking the reins as Managing Director of FSG Tool and Die Ltd on the Llantrisant Business Park in Pontyclun. As the COVID-19 crisis begins to recede, we thought it an ideal time to catch up with Paul and discuss his latest role, his views on the future of manufacturing in our country; and his vision for Manufacturing Wales.
Practicing the very best in precision engineering, developing what we do and how we do it
“For the past 15 months I’ve had the pleasure of running this fantastic place – working with the team that’s built an incredible reputation as the largest, privately-owned design and build toolmaking company in Europe, providing a total toolmaking service from concept to component,. When I first arrived I could see that we were already practising precision engineering at its very best; and I’m enjoying every minute working with the teams to keep developing what we do and how we do it. That’s effectively what engineering and manufacturing is all about – always innovating, continually driving improvements, working as a team to find the best way around challenges; making sure we always have a growth mindset and an outward focus on ‘what’s next?’. That was instilled into me as at the start of my working life – and it’s a culture that we continue to nurture here at FSG.
The chance for us manufacturers to take the lead
“The skills shortages right across manufacturing are well chronicled – and they’re clearly something we must address – but for FSG this is a chance for us as manufacturers to take the lead. Yes, we need government support and understanding, perhaps now more than ever – but we also need to bring the partnership between schools, colleges, universities and us as employers much closer together. In many ways we have to educate the educators about our own needs and the wide range of sustainable, well-paid career opportunities that are available in our advanced manufacturing sectors. It still surprises me that ‘making things’ went out of fashion for so many people a generation ago here in the UK – and I think it’s fair to say that to many minds, there’s still something of an old-fashioned perception about ‘Industry’, when the actual truth is that we often lead the world in the manufacture of vital products – and we’re amongst the most innovative and rewarding sectors to work in.
Inspiring the engineers of the future through access to the latest technologies and practices
“Take FSG as an example. it’s quite likely that the car you drive or the packaged food and drink you have consumed today has some small part of our expertise associated with it – and the medical devices being used by the NHS have part of our DNA in them. Our Llantrisant facility has continually evolved since it opened in 2006 and stands as a model of excellence in a wide range of technical disciplines, housing the very latest technology for the design and manufacture of high precision tooling. We’re not standing still though, having recently joined collaborative partnerships with both Aberystwyth and Swansea Universities to fully harness the potential of AI and real time data in our operation.
“That’s important as we need to inspire the engineers of the future by giving them access to the latest technology and practices. It’s something we have always done and will always do – with trained engineers at all levels at FSG; shaped around a 6-year apprenticeship scheme that’s become the benchmark for many companies in the industry, representing the best in workplace vocational training. The proof is always in the pudding of course; and I’m proud to say that many of our current employees joined us as apprentices and have worked their way up through the company, including many of the senior management team.”
Commitment to life-long learning and continual improvement
“That commitment to constant improvement and life-long learning is critical to our future success as a sector and as an economy – and that continual development of skills is something we can all champion through Manufacturing Wales. Exploiting the collective knowledge of every company in our manufacturing community – and building a network where people can be mentored to achieve their true potential, absorbing the best practices from different industrial sectors – would give us so many advantages. On a personal level, I’ve been fortunate to be mentored by Professor Andrew Thomas, collaborating with him for five years on a multitude of projects that helped create £340 million GVA – as well as working with Gareth Jenkins, the Executive Chair of FSG, to respond in the most positive and innovative way to the many challenges faced by the Welsh economy. So I know the value of what we can do when we work together as a manufacturing network – and that’s why we’re encouraging our young apprentices at FSG to adopt a mentor, to continually look ‘outside’ their immediate environment. This spirit of collaboration – of challenging and being challenged – is one of the key benefits of being part of Manufacturing Wales.
Rebalancing our economy on a secure manufacturing footing
“Manufacturing remains hugely significant to Wales. It provides over 150,000 of our jobs, representing more than 10% of our national workforce and delivering somewhere in the region of 15% of our GVA. I believe we can do more and do better if we show clarity and courage – through more supply chain collaborations, more industry and academic innovations; and influencing more intelligent procurement decisions, to rebalance our economy on a secure manufacturing footing. Given the lack of a national industrial strategy, we can work together strategically and operationally, to show real leadership and vision.
“If we do that, I believe we can create a future where manufacturing contributes 25% of our GVA, through world-class sectors leading the field, employing one of the most highly-skilled and agile workforces on the planet. I want to be part of that – and hope to achieve more in the next 10 years than I have in the past 40, putting manufacturing in Wales back to where it really belongs.”