While many manufacturers have seen output decline during the Covid-19 pandemic, LEEC Ltd has experienced the opposite. A Nottingham-based specialist in both facility design and the design, manufacture, installation and preventative maintenance of bespoke equipment for laboratory, pathology, forensic, anatomy and research fields, LEEC is a niche manufacturer with a global presence.
At the head of the business is Paul Venners, a forensic service, mortuary design and facilities management consultant who had been with the business since 1988. Speaking on the Leaders Council podcast about LEEC’s experience of the Covid-19 crisis, Venners revealed that the nature of the firm’s work had seen production increase as opposed to going the other way.
Sitting down with Leaders Council interviewer, Matthew O’Neill, Venners explained: “Being a unique company in the nature of our work, we were in demand from the Cabinet Office to provide pathology services in response to the increase in deaths brought about by Covid-19.
“We’ve had to increase production as a result, increasing our usual shift patterns to 18-hour days and upping our workforce by 50 per cent. We have also had to start working a full seven days a week, including through bank holidays this year.”
With the UK now past the peak of the pandemic and LEEC’s Cabinet Office contract fulfilled, one could assume that the firm would begin to see a drop in its income consistent with that which other manufacturing companies have experienced. However, LEEC’s workload has not receded, with the business now focusing on fulfilling its other contracts across the world which were forced to be put on hold by the priority of servicing the Cabinet Office deal.
Elaborating on this, Venners said: “The requirement was to fulfil our Cabinet Office contract in six weeks, which we did, and then we’ve been trying since to revert to our typical manufacturing process and catch up on the £9.4 million worth in contracts worldwide which we had to initially delay in order to service the Cabinet Office contract.
“In the manufacturing industry, we are in a niche market and so there is always worldwide demand for our services. However, elsewhere in the manufacturing industry, I can see businesses struggling.”
When asked to expand on his views, Venners said: “Other areas of manufacturing have been hit harder by the pandemic and where they are trying to get back up and running in a market with many competitors, I can see firms struggling. I see this particularly in the area of export, since I anticipate many countries will begin looking to manufacture at home rather then import products in less niche markets.”
While there is still work to be done, Venners anticipates that the future for LEEC remains bright.
“I hope to see a continuation of our success. We have major contracts across the world in places like Hong Kong, Belgium, Canada and Ghana and we need to keep developing as a business. We have a strong R&D department which we’ve pushed to be at the forefront of our industry, and we will continue to do that, particularly over the next five or six years.”
However, Venners warned that a key part of helping the manufacturing industry enjoy a prosperous future will be ensuring a steady flow of recruitment in the years to come, and education will have a critical role to play in supplying the sector with a tailor-made workforce.
Venners said: “From my personal experience of apprenticeship schemes, we have seen a lot of capable young men and women coming in to work for us who are more than able to conduct hands on tasks but are weak in the areas of mathematics for example because they have not been properly educated at school or after leaving school. Although they were very capable at doing a job, they weren’t passing exams that came as part of the wider apprenticeship schemes, so that had formed a barrier to their future career.”
Venners was also concerned that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the education sector could have a major impact on the career prospects of Britain’s youngsters in years to come.
“We have seen schoolchildren spend several months away from the classroom and this is going to have a major impact on their careers as some will inevitably have fallen behind. I have first-hand experience of the issue with five grandchildren that I have had to help home-school.
“As the education sector adjusts, schooling needs to focus on giving youngsters all of the skills that they need for the workplace. It cannot just be an emphasis on practical and vocational skills, nor a sole focus on academia. It must be a balance of being able to do the hands-on work, alongside aptitude in mathematics, English and the sciences.”