Nick Shields: Keeping the focus on productivity

Productivity is a bit of a buzzword right now. You can hardly read the business pages of any newspaper without seeing productivity '“ and often how Scottish businesses need to dramatically improve it in order to compete internationally '“ being discussed.

Nick Shields, director at the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service. Picture: Sammy Turner/SNS
Nick Shields, director at the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service. Picture: Sammy Turner/SNS

Like any overused word, productivity might make people start to switch off when they see it being discussed here yet again – but they shouldn’t.

At the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service (SMAS), we’ve helped to deliver productivity gains of £113 million over three years to the 200-odd businesses we’ve supported to date.

We want to help companies grow and become more profitable by making small, achievable changes to the way they work. And it’s not all about money – better productivity can also lead to better quality products and enhanced staff morale, amongst other benefits.

We work with Scottish companies of all sizes to support improvements in productivity, culture and behaviours from the shop floor to the boardroom and we want to work with even more businesses, particularly small and medium-sized companies.

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Our assistance is free and we are here to help businesses to grow through the development of new products, services, processes and new ways of working. SMAS is staffed by manufacturing specialists with a proven track record of troubleshooting across a wide range of technologies and industrial sectors in Scotland. Together the team brings more than 500 years of manufacturing expertise.

There are so many ways we can help businesses increase their productivity, from simply improving their layout and using their space more effectively to speed up production, by helping them developing innovative new products and bring them to market as quickly as possible, or helping them to engage their workforce. Lean procurement and sourcing can greatly increase the profitability of a manufacturing business.

We’re also supporting Construction Scotland and the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre with their Profit through Productivity programme, and running a series of events over the coming months aimed specifically at construction businesses that want to address the productivity challenge. One way in which SMAS’s manufacturing expertise is particularly relevant to the construction industry right now is offsite manufacture. Greater use of prefabrication, pre‑assembly, modularisation, and off-site fabrication techniques and processes in the construction industry is one of the keys to improved productivity in the sector. Both owners and contractors view offsite as a means to meet challenges of demanding schedules, adverse site conditions, and limited availability of skilled labour. Owners want better facilities faster, with greater certainty, at the lowest possible cost, and with increased safety.

Offsite can enable faster delivery of projects because you can be manufacturing building components offsite, while getting on with onsite field preparation at the same time. Costs can be reduced because moving part of the onsite construction work to a controlled environment can reduce the impact of bad weather on the project. SMAS can help deliver productivity improvements within your business through tailored, specific improvement projects. An experienced SMAS practitioner will transfer improvement skills to the project team as they deliver productivity improvements within the business.

In conjunction with the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, we are also launching a Construction Business Improvement Academy in the spring.

The Academy contains a number of workshops were the delegates will learn improvement and behavioural change tools and techniques. The delegates are then supported back in their workplace by experienced practitioners, as they deliver a productivity improvement project.

• Nick Shields is director at the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Service