How can we help safeguard West Yorkshire's industrial sector?

Monday, October 7, 2019

"There is a danger that Leeds will suck the life out of surrounding areas" warns Stafflex boss Brian Stahelin

In the wake of Brexit, improving infrastructure, wages and workspaces should be a priority according to Brian Stahelin, managing director of Stafflex.

Based in Huddersfield, the employment agency has provided staff to the industrial sector since 2000. Its specialist industrial team works with some of the largest manufacturers in the region, such as global operators Principle and Camira Fabrics.

In fact, Huddersfield boasts one of the largest manufacturing employment bases in the UK.

“In the current climate, areas such as chemicals and pharmaceutical companies are driving growth for the sector, as well as niche engineering organisations which are feeding larger companies through the supply chain.”


Focus on the wider region

Stahelin, who is also chairman of the Mid-Yorkshire Chamber and a trustee of Kirklees Active Leisure, promoting Huddersfield to the wider region, warns that the current focus on Leeds could damage nearby areas.

“Growth in Leeds is great for the city but not so good for other areas of West Yorkshire, such as Huddersfield and Halifax.

“There is a danger that places like Leeds are going to become bigger and bigger while sucking the life out of the surrounding areas,” he continues.

“We need to find a way of encouraging businesses, and people, to stay in places like Huddersfield. This is a fantastic part of the world to bring families up, but we need better infrastructure and wages, which are not high enough for this part of the world.

"Of course living costs are lower in terms of housing, but nonetheless lower wages will encourage people to move away to places like London.

“Huddersfield also needs more of the right type of industrial buildings and office spaces. When I was seeking a new office five years ago, I just couldn’t find it. Better manufacturing warehouse space needs to be designed and built.”

Stahelin also comments that the infrastructure, especially in terms of enhanced road and rail links, is also key to the success of the industrial sector in the whole of West Yorkshire.

“We need better links. We could probably encourage more business from London to come here if we had the right buildings and infrastructure.”


Brexit impact

Stahelin’s comments come as the industrial sector throughout the UK prepares to take a likely hit from Brexit. The recent Annual Manufacturers report reveals that 71% of UK manufacturers say Brexit is damaging strategic-planning and business prospects.

A further study by Make UK warns that Yorkshire and the Humber, alongside Wales and the North East, has a very high exposure to trade with the EU, so the risks of a no-deal Brexit are likely to be felt disproportionately in these areas.

“People are very uncertain about the impact it’s going to have on export, particularly when it comes to Europe, because there appears to be no specific guidance.

"If Brexit does happen then every single country will have it’s own export documentation requirements which is going to cause huge problems,”he explains. 

“One of our fears is that, if it means the migrant population stops coming in and/or goes home – because currently around 15% of the workforce population is non-British – there is going to be a real problem.”


Skills for the future

Brexit aside, the employment boss believes investment in training a skilled workforce is also crucial for the sector.

“At the moment we don’t have any particular difficulty recruiting for unskilled or semi-skilled positions but, like everyone else, we’re finding it hard to get hold of people who are in skilled trades,” he explains.

“Skilled people who have perhaps served apprenticeships are moving out of the workforce, often due to age, and they don’t appear to have been replaced.”

Looking to the future, Stahelin believes we need to tap into a broader talent pool to provide skilled labour for the industrial sector in West Yorkshire.

“I don’t believe that the current apprenticeship scheme is serving the sector. I think there needs to be more emphasis on training, whatever the age.

“We live in a time where people are healthier and will work for longer. A 55-year-old has another 15, 20, 25 years left to offer if they don’t want to stop working, whether it’s full time or part time. We really need to think about this for the future.”


If you would like to speak to us i more detail about the state of the industrial recruitment market, or anything else mentioned in this article, please contact Brian Stahelin on 01484 351010 or at