Q&A: Steve Collins, NMCL Automotive Programme Manager
National Manufacturing Competitiveness Levels (NMCL) is a process devised to boost long-term operational and commercial efficiency in the UK. Created by a consortium led by SMMT and ADS Group Limited (ADS), it has been working with UK companies to help increase their competitiveness since April last year.
NMCL Automotive aims to raise workforce capability, increase productivity, boost UK economic growth and increase export levels. It seeks to achieve this by working with over 100 companies in a 3-year period, distributing £16m of funding from the Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
But how can companies get involved, and what can they expect to receive in the way of guidance to achieve sustainable business growth?
TNB spoke to Steve Collins, NMCL Programme Manager to find out how it’s helping UK businesses.
TNB: Who are the companies that NMCL has been developed to help?
SC: NMCL supports the automotive supply chain. It is open to any company that provides components for the vehicles supported by SMMT, but our priority is SMEs.
Most of the companies that we work with are related to passenger cars, but we are looking for more expressions of interest from commercial vehicle suppliers. This programme is not just about cars. As a national scheme, we welcome further interest from Northern Ireland and Scotland, where commercial vehicle trailer manufacture and supply for the coach & bus industry is more prevalent.
TNB: How do you work with these companies?
SC: We run the programme and help companies get the support they need, where they require it and from the specialists most suited to providing it.
The first stage is a thorough assessment carried out by experienced professionals. They work with the company to understand the area of competitiveness that they wish to address before embarking on a rigorous process to, ultimately, develop a detailed improvement plan. These areas cover quality, cost, deliverability, flexibility, product & technology, and customer experience.
Factors that contribute to an assessment include the company’s own view of its current performance, the views of three of its customers, and a capability assessment.
Each project is bespoke, and it clearly takes a lot of negotiation to understand both the priorities and company’s ability to cope with improvement. The assessor considers everything they think might be relevant to the company’s competitiveness and draws up a prioritised list of actions. The assessor will draw up a business case to look for improvements that give the biggest financial benefit back to the company.
TNB: So, having received guidance, the support is in place to help achieve the goals laid out in the business cases?
SC: When a beneficiary is offered funding, they can work with any improvement provider from a list of approved consultants. The list is a result of an extremely rigorous selection process.
In total, the programme contains over 122 modules split into four themes: Competitive Strategy and Management Systems; NPI & Lifecycle Management; Manufacturing Operations; and Supply Chain. Modules are then broken down into work packages within the themes, ranging from Marketing & Sales for Growth, to Manufacturing Management or Procurement. It covers all sorts – wherever we agree with a company that there should be improvement, that’s where we target.
A successful funding offer is essentially a budget that can be used to help achieve enhanced competitiveness guided by an improvement provider. The provider offers training, coaching, mentoring and consultancy. The set-up is flexible and beneficiaries can use as many or as few of the providers as they like – the programme is bespoke with the aim of delivering on the improvements that offer the most financial gain. The goal is to find an optimised solution that works for all parties.
The funding process is broadly cash neutral. Companies have to contribute their people’s time into the programme in the form of a beneficiary contribution.
TNB: Although it’s early days, how many companies have you worked with and how long is the average programme?
SC: So far 12 companies have gone through the process and achieved funding. Half of these companies only kicked off in September so it is an exciting time. The average project will last for around 20 months and achieves funding of around £200k. We have recently been speaking to more commercial vehicle suppliers, as well as those for agricultural trailers, campers and body-builders for customised vans.
TNB: We imagine Covid-19 must have had an impact in terms of the number of companies seeking assistance and NMCL’s way of working. How have you adapted?
SC: The greatest impact has been on the assessment process, which have been transferred to virtual activities where possible. Meetings early in the programme, especially, have moved online. Latterly, we have agreed Covid-19-secure processes with individual beneficiaries that have made necessary onsite visits as safe as possible.
TNB: Finally, what are the next steps for companies completing the programme?
SC: We run reassessment at the end of an individual project to judge the success of the programme in terms of tangible business gains. In certain instances, companies may be eligible for follow-on projects that further enhance competitiveness for the benefit of UK manufacturing and its economy.
TNB: What do interested companies need to do to start the process?
SC: The first step is to declare an Expression of Interest at www.nmcl.co.uk. This isn’t a binding commitment to begin the programme, nor is it a guarantee of acceptance, but it kicks things off and begins the process of assessing eligibility. Alternatively, using the contact details available at the website or by emailing me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, the NMCL team is more than happy to talk to prospective companies about the programme and how it may be able to help them.