James Sopwith, Group Strategic Account Director of leading West Midlands multi-disciplinary engineering firm, adi Group.

adi Group broadens sustainability debate at leading manufacturing expo 

The national conversation around sustainability is too narrow in its scope, an influential leader from one of the Midlands’ premier engineering firms has told a gathering of key industry figures.

Sustainability is a subject on everybody’s lips in business circles - and for good reason, with those working across many sectors increasingly doing their best to be sustainable.

But our terms of reference and, therefore, our actions around sustainability are too limited, warned James Sopwith, Group Strategic Account Director of leading West Midlands multi-disciplinary engineering firm, adi Group.

And he set out the business case for the much broader interpretation of sustainability that informs the firm’s strategic growth and skills objectives for the years ahead at the Made in the Midlands EXPO ’19.

James was a guest speaker at a seminar during the tenth anniversary edition of the UK’s largest regional manufacturing and engineering exhibition, held at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena on Thursday 20 June.

“People talk about carbon footprints and resource depletion, and rightly so,” said James. “Absolutely, we must take care of our climate and environmental responsibilities.

“People talk about the financial stability of our businesses, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If we don’t generate a surplus, we can’t reinvest in order to grow. If we lose money, we perish. But, there, the sustainability conversation tends to stop.

“However, we think there’s significant value, for everyone, in taking that conversation much further to introduce a range of interlinking, related ideas. We want to really open things up for discussion and for action. And we try to set an example.

“At the adi Group, we believe the conversation around sustainability is too narrow in its scope.”

The Birmingham-based firm, established in 1990, has long questioned conventional wisdom, incrementally developing over 30 expert specialisms in a challenge to the traditional UK engineering model of niche providers.

Not satisfied with meeting and exceeding its commitment, as a member of The 5% Club, to raising their number of apprentices on formal programmes to five per cent of total staff within five years, or with attaining the coveted Ecovadis Gold Accreditation that places it in the world’s top one per cent most sustainable and engaging employers, the adi Group does something unique.

Aiming to inspire young people to consider engineering as a career, the firm has teamed up with North Bromsgrove High School close to its Kings Norton HQ to give 14 to 16-year-olds hands-on experience in a real-life working environment.

The youngsters spend half a day per week over two years learning in-demand hands-on electrical and mechanical skills from adi’s own in-house mentors, while still completing their other GCSE curricula, earning themselves an EAL qualification and making significant headway towards a Level 2 attainment in electrical and mechanical engineering.

The pre-apprenticeship scheme, funded entirely by the firm, is three times oversubscribed and saw its inaugural 2016 intake graduate last year. Proof of the concept came when the group enrolled five of those 10 graduates onto its full-time apprenticeship programme.

Thinking more broadly about sustainability has paid dividends in other ways too. Consistent double-digit year-on-year growth means the adi Group now has a team of over 660 highly skilled employees working from 12 facilities across the UK and the Republic of Ireland self-delivering robust turnkey solutions to clients in almost every sector.

But the adi Group will not rest on its laurels. This is a business with serious long-term ambitions, intending, as James Sopwith puts it, to engineer a better future. The key to that lies in taking a broader view of sustainability.

“We need to evolve our thinking about sustainability. We should look at the long-term viability of the many bonds that hold us all together. As people, as communities, as a society and as an economy.

“As businesses, we must recognise our mutual dependency. Not simply with our clients and suppliers, but with everything and everybody we interact with.

“Our communities rely on us for job and wealth creation, for skills development and, to some extent, for identity. But, as businesses, we depend heavily on the communities, people and organisations around us for their skills and their energy, for resources, for infrastructure and for countless things more.

“We owe each other everything and we all share the same destiny. We have big responsibilities but that brings us big opportunities, if we engage with culture and people with real intent. We’re not talking about CSR as a simple tick-box exercise.

“We’re talking about inspiration as an aspiration. Inspiring our communities, inspiring our teams, inspiring the next generation of engineers we so badly need in this country. And, ultimately, inspiring ourselves to achieve more and to achieve it together.”

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