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How the ESCO project hopes to change the electronic systems industry's profile

When, at the end of 2004, the Electronics Innovation and Growth Team (EIGT) released its report on the state of the UK's electronics industry, its chairman David Kynaston admitted the team had no idea of the size of the sector it had examined. "We just don't know," he said. But he believed the sector was 'significantly bigger' than the 2% of GDP apportioned to it by official statistics.

The reason for the lack of precision is that electronics pervades the UK's economy. While it is relatively simple to quantify the obvious electronics companies, finding those where electronics enables the main product is a challenge.

With an almost unprecedented degree of collaboration, the electronics industry has got behind the ESCO project, short for Electronics Systems – Challenges and Opportunities. One of its challenges is to provide a better 'guesstimate' of the size and spread of UK electronics. What ESCO wants to say is 'here's a sector which is doing much better than you think, not only in terms of its contribution to the UK's economy, but also in the number of jobs it sustains'. When presented with an accurate picture of the industry's size and scope, ESCO hopes the Government won't be able to ignore it as readily as it has before.

With better data, ESCO can also start to address the industry's public profile. If school students have a better feel for the importance of electronics, there's more chance they'll think about a career in the sector.

But there's another interesting aspect to ESCO's work. Historically, the electronics industry has been represented by a large number of bodies who specialised in not talking to each other. In 2004, Kynaston's team found the UK electronics industry 'fragmented and [failing to] punch its weight'. By telling companies they are all in the same sector – electronic systems, not just pure electronics – ESCO thinks it can give them a flag to stand behind. And it believes that's something that hasn't been on offer before.

Graham Pitcher

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