A flying start: Interview with James Godman, Agustawestland UK

For James Godman, a youthful acquaintance with the development of Concorde led to a highly successful career in aerospace engineering. Paul Fanning finds out how he is trying to inspire others to follow a similar path.

Despite describing himself as never having had "a clear mission in life", AgustaWestland's UK head of research and development James Godman has little doubt about what it was that drew him towards the aerospace industry. "Concorde was being manufactured at that time," he says. "And my father was involved – he designed the air intake, in fact. I went to a school that was close to the runway and, as soon as we heard the engines roaring and the aircraft coming down to taxi, we'd be on our pushbikes and would head off for the bottom of the runway. They closed the road and you'd see it take off and land. So if you look back and think about the things that subconsciously drive you to do what you do, I've always had a passion for manufacturing in the UK and I think that stems back to the Concorde experience." It was sharing this story with Minister for Business and Enterprise Mark Prisk at a summit in Bristol that led to Godman's involvement with the 'Make it In Great Britain' campaign, which aims to counter myths about the UK's manufacturing industry and encourage young people to enter industry. He says: "I think it's a very good initiative and much-needed. Manufacturing has never been flavour of the month and isn't often put at the forefront and we don't always realise what we've got in the UK in terms of skills, capabilities and, most importantly, creativity." One of the factors that have made this campaign necessary, Godman feels, has been a lack of visibility on the part of manufacturing and engineering that has led to them being ignored or disregarded. "The country needs to understand how significant [manufacturing and engineering], are" he says. "If we stand back and look around us, everything that surrounds us is designed and manufactured. Everything we use is designed and manufactured. But do people appreciate the work involved in the design and manufacture of everything we use? I don't think so." All this, he believes, is in spite of the fact that the rewards of a career in engineering are enormous. He says: "What excites me are the possibilities – the possibilities of designing something, building something and building a life based on that. To have the opportunity to explore your thoughts and imagination and to be able to turn that into an end product – there aren't many jobs where you can do that." The intention is for Make it In Great Britain to produce 30 ambassadors – a group of young and dynamic, next-generation engineers across a range of sectors to act as champions for manufacturing and tell people about the opportunities. However, Godman is under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge, saying: "The media bombards kids with any number of options. How we help them understand and guide them is a significant challenge." Rather than being a problem purely for the future, he emphasises that the shortage of good candidates is something that is adversely affecting the industry now. He says: "I know that colleagues in other companies are severely challenged when they go to look for new graduate engineers or even apprentices. There's a major resource challenge there. The University Technology Centres and the other initiatives will obviously make a difference, but it's a question of timing. It takes time for people to come through the system." Nonetheless, Godman remains positive about the state of engineering in the UK, being encouraged by the Government's new-found enthusiasm for the sector. He says: "From the point of view of my industry, there has certainly been a significant change in terms of investment and focus. We've got initiatives like Catapult Centres, University Technical Colleges and the National Composites Centre… there really is an upward beat with relation to the Government's involvement with industry and the way they're trying to assist and are assisting in key strategic initiatives." An area where Godman believes government has a significant role to play is in facilitating cross-sectoral communication with manufacturing. Successful examples of this cross-fertilisation, he claims, include aerospace's automotive-inspired move towards greater automation and automotive's aerospace-inspired use of advanced materials. "There's a balance to be found between designing, manufacturing, supporting and improving your own product and also being able to look out across other sectors and see how you can adopt new technology and adopt it into our business. Otherwise, you end up with lots of sector-specific expertise, but with lessons learned not being shared across industry."