Back to the future

13 mins read

For more than 70 years, Works Management’s manufacturing magazine has been the authentic voice of UK manufacturing, providing the industry with a forum to exchange views and a platform for business improvement. WM champions the cause of directors and managers in charge of frontline factories and offers a wealth of best practice ideas, while our exclusive interviews with industry’s leading lights reveal the strategic thinking behind UK manufacturing success stories.

However, like many publications and businesses, the winds have changed and WM is about to be shaken up. In September, WM is relaunching as Manufacturing Management. The magazine will remain monthly but come with a new look, design and feel. The content itself will remain fairly unchanged although new sections are being added and some sections of the magazine adjusted.

The website will also be getting a makeover. Readers can access the biggest and best news stories, daily, in a much simpler format, as well as gain access to our directory. WM runs a variety of events including the Manufacturing Management Conference and the Manufacturing Management Show, so the rebranded publication and website is the final instalment needed to bring everything in line and under one name.

Chris Beck, currently deputy editor of WM, will become editor of the publication in September following the departure of Max Gosney to another publication title within WM’s owner, the Mark Allen Group. Chris has been with the Mark Allen Group and WM since July 2016. Adam Offord, who joined WM as a reporter at the beginning of January following a two year apprenticeship on a Mark Allen Group education title, also remains in post and under the leadership of Chris. As does James Slade, sales manager for WM.

The team would like to say a big thank you to all our readers who got involved in WM’s consultation process over the last six months to help steer the publication into the 21st Century. And, to celebrate next month’s relaunch, as well as WM’s birthday, we have picked out some of the biggest and wackiest features from the past few decades to remind you how resilient UK manufacturing is and how far it has come. You may even remember some of them…


Worker Training: What kind of problem do you really face?
In July 1975 it seemed that the manufacturing industry was facing a skills crisis much like today. WM’s feature focused on an announcement by then Chancellor Denis Healey that £50 million would be pumped into the ‘Manpower Services Commission’ with the aim of strengthening and accelerating the growth of training programmes. “This problem is not only a short-term problem,” Healey said. Some manufacturers would perhaps argue that truer words have never been spoken.

No more sitting on a cold, hard bench
WM’s February 1990 issue once again brought skills shortages and young people into the spotlight. The main feature focused on City Technology Colleges – Solihull, Nottingham and Middlesbrough were up and running at the time. It set out to demonstrate how they could be the answer to a lack of vocational training and craft-centred skills.

The hard benefits of soft skills
No-one disputes the need for technical training on the shopfloor. But what about “softer” abilities such as problem solving, communication, and interpersonal skills? WM’s March 2000 magazine questioned whether there were any advantages to widening the training focus. In summary, “if someone sets a job wrong firms can lose a lot of money. You can do an awful lot of training for the cost of one failure. And, once done, mistakes diminish. The real price is a skilled, flexible workforce who can be deployed to solve problems themselves”.

Playground tactics

Manufacturing has to muscle in on the school curriculum to end the shortage of skilled workers that has long haunted the sector, WM’s industry think tank “WM Leaders Forum” ruled in July 2011. The four-page feature reports on the groups inaugural meeting and how skills shortages can be tackled.

Plant & Materials Handling:

How good are you at 3D factory layout?
Win an eye watering £500, WM’s feature screamed in July 1975. How? All readers had to do was enter WM’s factory layout competition with the winning entry built in 3D form and displayed on an event stand at PEMEC. The article also featured designs from various manufacturing firms, including RockerBrit.

Will this be the winter of your discontent?
“Winter is coming”. Yes, that may be the motto of House Stark in television series Game of Thrones, but that was the warning readers were also given in November 1976. The three-page feature aimed to provider manufacturing leaders with top tips to ensure they were prepared for the cold season. From cutting down on power, storing heating, and ensuring buildings were secure from leaks, the feature was jampacked with helpful advice.

Harnessing the return of shopfloor power
Following the easing of a recession, industrial relations were beginning to “erupt again”. A survey of 50 manufacturing managers by WM in February 1985 found three-quarters feared a resurgence in shopfloor militancy. The feature highlighted measures taken by respondents to consolidate productivity improvements, which included: improved communication; changing managers; and relating pay and other rewards more closely to performance.

Relocation: managing change
Moving factory is one of the biggest and most complex tasks that managers face today. Where do you go? How do you do it? When do you do it? How long will it take? All these questions and more need to be answered before you set the ball rolling. And, it was exactly the same in 1989. WM’s January magazine set out to answer such questions and give advice to readers who were potentially thinking about relocating. It focused on objectives, destinations, time, the workforce and travel. There was also a tips box on the “do’s and don’ts of on-site expansion”.

CI leads the ways to a brighter future
In the mid-1980s, Lucas Electrical’s Cannock factory could sell everything it made. But, it couldn’t make money. After a complete cultural overhaul and a new owner, Carello, the plant was in profit. WM explored the factory’s success story in September 1994 to find out what problems it faced and how it managed to turn things around.

Making it in the 90s
Factories must become efficient manufacturing machines that are geared towards winning orders by delighting customers, WM’s feature in January 1990 said. But how? WM highlighted a range of vital components from having a positive outlook to leadership skills.

Managing change: Learning from Japan
“Learning from Japan” was a DTI initiative based on a simple concept: take 12 second-tier engineering subcontractors with their ultimate customers to Japan and let them learn first hand how to reduce stocks and work-in-progress dramatically, cut re-work, improve efficiency, and increase profits; then bring them back to encourage others. WM reported on the study tour in October 1994 and how the companies would bring themselves in line with Japanese techniques.

Energy tax: cut your losses
In January 2000, the then government and businesses were setting out the details of the Climate Change Levy. It would mean that from April 2001, all businesses would pay more for energy. WM asked who the winners and losers were by delving deeper into the details and how it would affect industry.

Lighten your load
Sourcing a forklift truck (FLT) can be hard enough in itself, but managing the fleets efficiency afterwards to ensure trucks are always working to their maximum and always available can be a very fine art indeed. This is where outsourcing comes in. WM’s October 2005 issue questions what price there is to pay for making such a move and whether is could lift the burden off manufacturers.

Exhausting the possibilities
The push to become more environmentally friendly has circulated conversations for years. January 2007 was no different. This time however, focusing on forklift trucks and their fuel. WM’s feature investigated fuel cells and how such a green energy could be used. It also features Toyota’s hybrid fuel cell prototype FLT that was unveiled in 2005.

The thin blue line
Thousands of police, fire and ambulance vehicles are kitted out at Vauxhall’s Luton plant. WM walked the beat with Vauxhall’s manager of special vehicles to see the production challenges in March 2017 and asked if UK manufacturers should be on high alert to this market.

Rise, Kings of the North
Scottish manufacturing has the potential to lead the world again, a WM roundtable event heard in May this year. WM reports on what was said and how manufacturers can believe in themselves again.


The works manager under pressure

Fear gripped under pressure works managers in WM’s October 1974 issue. Fear that they could be a dying breed. This is because they believed young workers were being frightened off due to the job being too tough and, instead, settling for a job that was less stressful, had high salary and more regular hours. At the time, inflation was playing havoc with material supplies, prices and labour rates. And, all political parties embraced a new concept of worker participation in the business of management.

Come to work – and get a free TV
At R.H. Nameplates, Winchester, they don’t like the words “management” or “workers”. To 34-year-old general manager John Ivil, they’re all “members” – members of a company that gives away colour televisions, shares its profits, and works very flexible working hours. Ivil talks face-to-face with WM in November 1974 about himself, his company, and his “members”. “We’re always looking for ways to give members of the company better working conditions,” he said.

Factory cleaning
Factory cleaners across British factories are probably the “oldest, most inefficient and expensive cleaning machines available”, WM joked in April 1975. But, two emerging factors were set to scrub this out and cause a dilemma for managers. The Health & Safety at Work Act was set to not only make managers ensure their factory was safe, but also clean (including dirty working conditions). However, at the same time, labour costs were rising. Cleaning operations were an area where savings could be made, but firms had to ensure they also upgraded their cleaning standards to comply with the law – what a headache.

Control yourself – and be a better manager
Behaviour has a major influence on other people’s perceptions of you. That is true today but it was also true in March 1989. WM’s cover feature spoke to Dr Peter Honey, who explained how managers can modify their behaviour to best achieve the results needed. He also gave helpful tips around behaviour. ”It is useful to limit yourself to nine alternative verbal behaviours,” he said. “1 – seeking ideas, 2 – proposing ideas, 3 – suggesting ideas, 4 – building someone else’s idea, 5 – disagreeing, 6 – supporting, 7 – pointing out snags, 8 – seeking clarification and information, and 9 – clarifying, explaining and informing.”

How Kodak develops its team leaders
Remember Kodak? The company with a historic basis on photography. Well in May 1989 Kodak brought the subject of “good supervisors” into focus by asking its managers to create a “photo-fit” of the ideal team leader. It then used assessment centres to match the people to the image. WM put the company under the lens to expose the positive attitudes that make up its selection picture.

The final hurdle
The number of women in manufacturing has, thank goodness, become more common in the last decade or so. From shopfloor level to the management board – the male to female ratio has got smaller, but there is still plenty of room for more female factory workers. The same problem was still around in May 1994, with research showing that women are not making it into boardrooms. The feature covered success stories and equal opportunities. But the overshadowing question was whether the industry should be worried about the lack of female talent in UK manufacturing. And the overall answer was “yes”.

And the champion, in the red corner, is Labour (with a bloody nose)
In April 2005, industry leaders gave the Labour party a big thumbs-up in a WM survey aimed at identifying how well political parties are serving the needs of UK manufacturing. Despite Labour “coming out on top” of the survey, none of the parties really emerged with any credit.

Stay just a little bit longer
The baby boomers are about to hang up their hi-vis for the final time, WM’s Retirement Survey revealed in April 2017. Only by retaining them through flexible working can we save our sites from a skills Armageddon, WM said.

Health & Safety:

The factory inspector strikes again
In February 1975, the then Health and Safety Executive director John Locke warned WM that his executive would prosecute anyone who stood on the wrong side of the law once the Health & Safety at Work Act was introduced on 1 April. In the September 1975 magazine, WM investigated. In the first three months of the year, the executive issued 407 Improvement Notices, 89 Deferred Prohibition Notices and 173 Immediate Prohibition Notices. And, in the second quarter of the year, the executive became even busier, issuing 1,336 Improvement Notices, 174 Deferred Prohibition Notices and a hefty 474 Immediate Prohibition Notices.

Eye laws: the mad maze you must get through first
Each year there are 300,000 eye injuries in the UK, the British Insurance Association warned in January 1976. And, in a bid to help combat such an issue that could leave works managers facing hefty fines, WM set out to see what more could be done to protect workers. It highlighted that employers should first identify what hazards their workers face – light, chemical, mechanical – and then consider types of eye care programmes. It also recommended going for eye product protection that holds the British Standards Institution marking.

Influenza: one strike you can plan on
“Influenza is a killer”. That was the main headline of WM’s feature in August 1976. Also known as “the flu”, it is an infectious disease that can create various symptoms. The feature focused on sick days in UK manufacturing and looked to expose how many work days were being lost. To put it into perspective, between June 1972 and May 1973 12.3 million working days were lost in Britain because of “industrial unrest”. But in the same period, 13.6 million working days were lost due to influenza. WM questioned whether workers should be getting vaccinated and brought in various views from doctors and medical officers.

Three million workers to have hearing tested

In June 1985, the European Directive on Noise was close to completing a legislative process that would require firms, by law, to test certain employees for deafness. The feature looked at cases where companies had to pay out due to employees losing their hearing, the results of audiograms, and how employers can ensure employees are protected and wearing safety gear.

A special report on safety
“Every factory in the country will be affected by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations when it is fully implemented next month”, WM reported in September 1989.
“But, how will it affect you?” Well, WM’s special report on safety set out to explain this by launching a three-stage “rescue package” for the hard-pressed factory manager. Its aim for to inform and educate top management and to provide them with the tool0073 by which they could, in turn, inform and educate their colleagues, supervisors and shopfloor employees.

A death in the factory
A 23-year-old agency worker was killed in April 2012 after accessing a printing machine to perform maintenance. WM examined the case in September 2016, the legacy at the factory where it happened and the wider safety lessons for UK manufacturing managers.


Noise hurts, but noise laws will hurt more
Factory noise laws are coming and managers are going to be caught out totally unprepared, WM warned in May 1975. Three years before, in 1972, the Code of Practice on noise was introduced and was the first step in making industry aware of how dangerous industrial deafness was. Three years later, the committee that produced the code, has produced a final draft on what it thought should constitute the basis of future noise legislation.

Prejudice and industry can’t work together
In October 1975, WM’s main feature focused on “the industry’s black employment problem”. This is because, at the time, there was feelings that unemployment was falling on black people much more than on the community in general. Both the Race Relations Board and the government at the time were concerned, and WM’s feature took a strong focus on equal opportunities, tackling discrimination, and compensation.

Workers’ right: first the threat
The cover story in April 1990 focused on “the gradual erosion” of workers’ rights since 1979. It questioned whether Thatcher’s Britain was “deliberately unfair” and questioned how we “reconcile UK law and Social Charter” which is “vividly painted as the uninvited and unwelcome guest”.

Managing to adapt in a hostile environment
New legislation for the UK from the EEC was about to come down on UK manufacturing leaders like in ton of bricks in July 1990. It would force industry to clean up its act or face a severe loss of business. Managers needed to take positive steps to improve their green track record and shake off Britain’s image of the “dirty man of Europe”. WM reported on the difference between British and European management thinking.

Contract labour on the ropes?
The September 2000 issue of WM focused on “hire and fire”. Manufacturing employers in seasonal, contract-driven or variable demand businesses once had no choice but to take people on in the “good times” and lay them off when they went quiet again. But chances to employment law had made it harder to get rid of people. This led some manufacturers opting to take people on contract. And agencies sprung up to supply contract labour to the workforce.


Low Cost Automation spells savings
Low-cost automation was the main focus of WM magazine in March 1975. It had become such a hype due to benefits such as less operator fatigue, more output, a cut down in handling time, a reduction in setup times, and a cut in expensive labour. WM spoke to several organisations that had taken advantage of such technology to find out the pros and cons. In fact, the government at the time even jumped on low-cost automation, acting through 15 grant-aided low-cost automation centres that were established at universities and polytechnicals to give out advice, carry out consultations, and design machinery.

On time delivery
Online shopping has never been easier in today’s world. But manufacturers struggled with the idea in August 2000. WM’s feature focused on online delivery – where people found it easy to order but struggled to receive their goods. WM tried to find out how manufacturers could ensure that when they offer services or products on the web, they can keep their delivery promises. The article concluded that firms should be objective, make sure that fulfilment works, that businesses could handle an additional channel, and to test everything to prove it works.

Learning with distinction
Have you ever done an online course? Or perhaps a training programme on the web? They are, of course, very popular in today’s society, with various accreditation schemes and online universities. But, in WM’s August 2005 magazine, the dispute between web-based training and traditional classroom-style instruction was cast out of the shadows. Which method came out on top? Well, it was decided that while “e-learning” does have a foot on the training ladder, it still had to raise its profile to come anywhere near traditional methods.

Changing times
It's time to think seriously about joining the Fourth Industrial Revolution before UK manufacturers get left behind by more progressive nations, WM warned in February 2017. But how? WM explains.

This is an Evolution, not a Revolution (by Chris Beck)

When the first issue of Works Management hit the desks of manufacturing leaders, George VI was on the throne, the country was rebuilding after WWII and UK unemployment hovered around 0.5%.

Seventy years on, the country and its workers may have changed, but one thing remains the same: Works Management is still your voice of the manufacturing industry. As you will have seen from the previous pages, we’ve been reporting on the topics that matter to you, the people who make UK manufacturing great – everything from the growth of automation to employment law, and from cleaners’ rights to health & safety.

The times, however, they are a’changin’.The fourth industrial revolution is upon us, technology and data are becoming more valuable than ever, and the pace of change in manufacturing is unprecedented. It is for that reason that we have taken the bold decision to significantly rebrand Works Management to better reflect our ever-changing readership.

You may have seen our reader survey, which we have sent to our email database over the past few months, and you may even have taken the time to fill it out. If you did, your thoughts and opinions have been closely considered when developing the major changes, which will all be revealed in our September issue.

We are keen to stress, however, that this is an evolution, not a revolution. There will be design changes and several exciting new features, but we will keep the same high-quality editorial content that you will have been familiar with over the years. The new-look magazine will also be brought more closely into line with our range of events – the Manufacturing Management Show and Conference, Manufacturing Champions and our monthly Factory Tours.

We will also practice what we preach – continuous improvement is a key theme for us on the redesign. We’ll be looking for your feedback, both positive and negative, on the new look, and some of the new features. Email me at, or call one of our team on 01322 221144. We look forward to hearing from you, and thank you for your continued support over the past 70 years.