Industrial relations – what the diaspora thinks Wales does, and what it really does
“Libraries gave us power…” – Manic Street Preachers
The opening line of the Welsh band’s 1996 hit, Design For Life, was inspired by words engraved over the door of a library a few miles from their hometown. The hugely influential rock band, hail from Blackwood, a town where, like so many other in South Wales, the major source of employment was for several generations coal mining. It was an apt choice, for the always literate Manics, as libraries and collieries have a special connection in Wales, often linked to miners’ institutes and were typically funded, run and managed by the communities in which they were situated. This alliance of abundant natural resources, heavy industry and education shaped the economy of Wales for most of the 20th century, and the legacy of this, continues to this day. But alongside older traditions and processes, new, emerging technologies and businesses are fast emerging.
Whilst the outdated and inaccurate stereotype a land of coal mines and sheep farms has largely been shaken off, the perception of which industries the North American diaspora associate most strongly with Wales, as detailed in new research from digital anthropologists sapient.d proves an insightful and illuminating view.
"Wales has come a long way from its dependance on mineral wealth and heavy industry. The challenge Wales faces now is to continue that transition and become leaders in key industries where we already have or can establish a lead such as in Compound Semi Conductors, Cyber Security and Fintech."
The number one industry is manufacturing, with recognition rates growing steadily between 2015 and 2020. Wales certainly has a rich heritage in heavy industry, and the foundations from this can be seen in the large role that steel, tin and aluminium production still plays, alongside oil refining, automotive, light industry and perhaps the most exciting of all – advanced, alternative and low carbon materials and products. Second is tourism, with official figures showing that tourists spend around £17 million a day whilst in Wales, amounting to around £6.3 billion a year.
In at three comes electronics, another sector in which recognition has grown strongly and flagship operations like the Sony UK Technology Centre and the production of the Raspberry Pi computer fly the flag for Wales beyond our borders. The research separated technology, which came fourth and digital, in at seven, with technology relating more to hardware-based products across multiple industries and digital defined as software and internet related businesses.
Fifth comes aerospace where a strong mix of government and private sector projects have attracted some of the world’s companies including BAE Systems and British Airways. And sixth on the list is forestry, another area of growth where new planting, economic output and the number of visits made to woodlands are rising.
“There’s an increase in Welsh set films and dramas, Y Gwyll/Hinterland for example is watched in North America... Digital platforms and streaming services do of course offer a huge opportunity to get Welsh content out into the diaspora at a rate never before seen.”
GlobalWelsh, the global community for Welsh people & friends of Wales, connects people working in all these industries and its founder Walter May tells us more about where he sees key areas of growth; “My career started in the Welsh steel industry as an indentured apprentice. I soon realised that the world was changing as access to desktop computers and advanced software emerged with the potential to change the industrial landscape of Wales and the UK. My personal journey and transition from heavy industry to computer aided engineering, via higher education both in Wales and outside, mirrored the transition of the economy.
"The future of modern economies will continue to be predicated on new technologies, innovation and global ambition. Wales has come a long way from its dependance on mineral wealth and heavy industry. The challenge Wales faces now is to continue that transition and become leaders in key industries where we already have or can establish a lead such as in Compound Semi Conductors, Cyber Security and Fintech. It is a highly competitive global landscape so Wales needs to pull together, engage our friends and supporters around the world, with a common aim of ensuring we reach the level of prosperity and success we've achieved in the past. Wales has the potential."
Just as interesting as the industries the English-speaking diaspora (primarily in North America) associate with Wales are the ones that don’t make the list. There is no agriculture – historically the largest employer in certain counties. No place for food and drink, an area where there has been a host of new companies launched in recent years, from Welsh cakes to wine and coffee to chocolate – it has never been as exciting. Nor do Creative Industries feature, with major recent global success stories with TV, film and computer games failing to cut through into the diaspora’s view of the work that goes on in Wales.
Just as interesting as the industries the English-speaking diaspora (primarily in North America) associate with Wales are the ones that don’t make the list.
Giles Crouch, Chief Information Officer of sapient.d adds his thoughts; “There’s an increase in Welsh set films and dramas, Y Gwyll/Hinterland for example is watched in North America. But often whilst filming might take place in Wales, it’s not always set in Wales (an example being, A Discovery of Witches, much of which is filmed Cardiff, but the story is set elsewhere) so the location might not be that obvious to viewers. Digital platforms and streaming services do of course offer a huge opportunity to get Welsh content out into the diaspora at a rate never before seen.”
Over the next few years, it will be interesting to track how and why the industries, both traditional and more modern that the North American diaspora view as key in Wales evolves and changes. Allied with this is the monitoring of a gap between the industries that are actually providing most jobs in Wales and those which the diaspora view as still dominant.
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