Austin Owens, founder of Grove Design, discusses the upcoming Design & Make Challenge, one of the biggest independent STEM events held in the UK. He explains why the Manufacturing Assembly Network (MAN) decided to take matters into its own hands to change perceptions and engage young people to consider a career in industry.

Austin Owens

I’m continually asked why we spend so much time and money, all of it our own, on putting on the Design & Make Challenge every year. 

The answer is simple. If we don’t, who is going to? As it stands, we’re sadly failing as an industry to get enough young people engaged and considering design, engineering, and manufacturing as an exciting and ultimately rewarding career.

And there’s no point saying it’s the Government’s fault or it’s up to them to sort. Admittedly, they could always do more, we all know that. However, in truth, it is down to all the amazing businesses in the UK to step forward and showcase what we do – that’s what will get children and teenagers excited.

 That’s where we started when we came up with the seed of a Design & Make idea in 2017. This quickly gathered momentum and received the instant thumbs up from all the members of the Manufacturing Assembly Network.

Fast forward six years and we’re just putting the finishing touches to the challenge for 2023’s competition, which will attract 80 Year 10, 11 and 12 students from 16 schools…our biggest yet.

The event will take place next week (July 11th) at WMG, a massive supporter of the work MAN does and D&M in general. Teams will come from all over the UK and will be given a set of materials and a brief to kick the day off.

From here, they will work together to build a prototype that they can test and then ultimately ‘race’. Like years gone by, there will be a mobility theme in play and prizes will be given for ‘efficiency’, ‘innovation’, ‘manufacturing’ and for ‘communications’ – the latter is all about proving there is a whole host of non-engineering jobs associated with our industry.

The schools will be assisted by apprentices from the MAN Group and from seven engineering graduates sourced from WMG. They will advise and help with some of the equipment, as well as offering a great source of inspiration and advice on vocational learning and what courses they are doing.

That’s what will be going on in the day. More importantly, we’re hoping that the eight hours will provide a brief but engaging insight into what design, engineering and manufacturing looks like.

It will plant a seed with the young people that the member companies will hope to cultivate by offering work experience opportunities, presentations in school and company visits. The latter, in my opinion, is the best bit.


In response to an elusive Industrial Strategy, the Manufacturing Assembly Network took it upon itself to launch its own MANifesto, a plan of action that helps tackle key issues and drives forward opportunities currently being explored by domestic SMEs.

It is made up of four pillars – International Trade, Investment, Sustainability and People.

The Design & Make Challenge is an important part of ‘People’, but the bigger picture is how we can change perceptions and how we ensure a job in industry comes with the same profile as it would do in Germany, where being an engineer is highly revered.

Engineering isn’t just about fixing things; it’s about coming up with new ideas and innovative solutions that help solve everyday issues, as well as huge global challenges.

It’s about how we generate energy, how we come up with sustainable mobility, about our general well-being, how we protect the food supply chain – if you work in industry, you will ultimately contribute to all of these.

This may be as a CNC programmer, it may be as a CAD designer, it may be through working in a foundry or maybe as a specialist in wafer-thin laminations used in electric motors.

But how do we get these important messages across? Industry needs to find its voice and we’d be more than happy to share our Design & Make model with other manufacturers who are tempted to dip their toe in the water and put on their own engineering/science-related events.

It’s not a short-term fix, we’re playing the long game because, quite frankly, if we don’t, we will not have an industry fit for purpose in the UK.

Austin Owens is the founder of Grove Design, a leading independent engineering design agency in Herefordshire.

He has spent more than 35 years designing products for global automotive companies, operational layouts for major recycling plants and helping to develop new well-being equipment, such as the revolutionary Reform RX Pilates exercise machine.

His business now employs 13 people and, due to growing demand, is looking to increase this number to 20 by the end of 2023.