Q and A with Ailsa Anderson of Engineering and Manufacturing Network

Industry Insights

Q and A with Ailsa Anderson of Engineering and Manufacturing Network

30th May 2023

Engineering and Manufacturing Network (EMN) is an engineering and manufacturing-focused cross-sector membership organisation, dedicated to supporting businesses and their people in North East England.

Horizon Works is a long-standing member of the organisation and in 2021, we became an affiliate of EMN – in this role we have delivered a number of seminars, site visits and webinars with the EMN team, and recently launched a programme of Engineering and Manufacturing Marketers’ Meet-Up events.

We caught up with Ailsa Anderson, Director of Development at EMN to talk about her first 10 months at the organisation, the plans for EMCON 2023 and what role EMN is playing in supporting businesses.

You joined EMN as Director of Development in August 2022 – tell us about your background.

I’ve worked in a variety of economic development and business support roles and much of my career has been spent supporting the growth, innovation capabilities and scalability of SMEs.

Earlier in my career, I set up Northern Cultural Skills Partnership, which I ran for five years before joining One North East.

I then worked as a project manager for North East Quality Observatory System (NEQOS) within the NHS before joining RTC North in 2014. There, I led the Innovate2Succeed project – a programme designed to drive business growth by harnessing innovation – and was project manager for Scaleup North East for four years, before joining EMN.

What excites you most about EMN?

It’s the passion of the members. It’s so great to hear their stories and see the incredible engineering capabilities across the region. Every day is different. When my kids asked me what my new job was, I just said it’s like an episode of Inside The Factory or Machines: How they Work on the Quest TV channel.

I also feel that there is a genuine sense of ‘community’ among our membership, which is fantastic to be a part of.

My predecessor, Ben Gilhespy, did a tremendous job in building the network. I’m proud to have been given the opportunity to continue where he left off and guide EMN into the next stage of its journey.

EMN’s headline event, EMCON, has moved to Rainton Arena and will be taking place on September 14. What can delegates and exhibitors expect from this year’s event?

EMCON is now in its 15th year: we’re excited to be marking that with a range of enhancements to the event.

Rainton Arena is much more accessible – there is plenty of free, on-site parking at the venue and it’s positioned in the heart of North East England, close to both the A1 and A19. There’ll be a larger exhibition space this year too.

One of the key features of EMCON 2023 is the range of themed zones. We will have a Skills Zone, including exhibitors from the public and private sectors who can support recruitment, retention and upskilling of existing workforces, an Energy Zone, featuring businesses which manufacture or offer energy saving solutions and a Digital Zone, which will focus on digital adoption and feature 10 companies that have benefitted from the MADE Smarter programme. There will also be a Healthcare Zone, supported by the Academic Health Science Network for NE and Cumbria and Northumbria Healthcare Innovation and Manufacturing Hub.

In addition, we’ll be organising VIP tours of the main exhibition area.

What do you see as the key challenges facing engineering and manufacturing businesses – and how can EMN help?

The rise in energy costs has put significant pressure on companies and this is likely to be a problem for quite some time.

In addition, the skills gap remains a key issue, as does staff retention – and clearly, employees and employers are being impacted by the cost of living crisis.

Brexit has also created a degree of uncertainty for some businesses, particularly around regulations and legislation.

While EMN can’t ‘solve’ all of these problems, we have built a strong engineering and manufacturing community which can help companies and their people navigate through these challenges. We provide a space for sharing knowledge and experience, and create deeper connections across the whole engineering and manufacturing sector in the North East.

For instance, if members share tips on best manufacturing practice, they may be able to increase operational efficiency, which can in turn reduce their energy use and make their companies more productive. Businesses may also be able to strengthen their local supply chains by engaging with EMN: this can enable them to decrease turnaround times or access critical capabilities and components more effectively.

These are just some of the ways EMN is contributing to a stronger engineering and manufacturing sector.

Why do you think it’s important to have an organisation such as EMN in the North East?

Running a business can be very lonely. Sometimes it feels like there is no one to turn to. EMN and organisations like us build communities where people can access impartial advice, share their problems and speak to those who are going through the same things.

Yes, EMN can help companies create new business opportunities and build awareness – and that is a major part of our offering – but it’s the deep level of support our community provides that also make a difference.

Why should a business join EMN?

EMN serves the entire engineering and manufacturing community. We help all the people who make organisations succeed. That means that many individuals within businesses – from maintenance personnel to HR, R&D to marketing – can draw on insight and connections through EMN.

We pride ourselves on providing a welcoming, collaborative environment for members to voice concerns, gain impartial peer to peer advice, share experiences, and access specialist expertise.

And we support a wide range of organisations too. For instance, if you are an emerging business, EMN can help you overcome scale-up challenges, identify solutions and avoid pitfalls. If you are a large-scale or multi-national organisation, EMN can help you strengthen your links to the local supply chain, source staff and expertise.

EMN recently hosted its first Engineers and Manufacturers Assemble event at Rainton Arena, attended by 124 delegates from the sector – what are your reflections on that event?

It was heartening to see so many EMN members at the event, and to meet so many new people too, from a host of different roles and backgrounds.

We had some very positive feedback on the announcements we made about EMCON, our events programme and future direction, and the panel discussion was very well received.

There was a great buzz in the room, with plenty of energy for an 8.30am breakfast event!

What are EMN’s plans for the future?

EMCON takes place in just a few months time. It’s our flagship event, a showcase for the best in North East engineering and manufacturing, and we’re really looking forward to hosting it at Rainton Arena.

We’re also rolling out a new events programme.

EMN will be working alongside the Women’s Engineering Society Tyne Tees Branch to deliver regular networking events for women in engineering and the University of Sunderland’s North East Maintenance Forum will now be operated in partnership with EMN.

We are also running an HR Forum lead by recruitment specialist and EMN affiliate partner Jackson Hogg; a Marketing Forum lead by Horizon Works; and a Business Leaders Peer Group, which offers an environment in which business leaders can address and resolve issues and learn new skills.

For more information on EMN, visit https://emn.org.uk/

For more information on EMCON, visit https://emcon.show/