Joe Pacitti (pic: Terry Murden)
So, how many times have you been made redundant? “Seven,” replies Joe Pacitti. “If you work in engineering you have have to get used to downsizing and restructuring.” It’s a bold statement that partly explains the chunky CV, and might be enough to put some people off even entering the sector. Pacitti says it just comes with the territory, and when one door closes another usually opens.
He’s been involved in engineering and manufacturing in one form or another for his entire working life, through Ferranti, United Wire, Plexus and numerous other employers, as well as spells in academia and public sector agencies, and despite the obvious unpredictability, his love of making things and “fixing stuff” has not diminished.
“Manufacturing lost something when it was stuck with the metal bashing tag,” he says. “It is much more than that. It’s changing all the time with new technologies and processes, but basically it is about being creative.”
He lists the range of disciplines – from designing mobile phones to building radar systems – all calling themselves engineering and all playing a regular and vital part in all our lives.
For the past four and a half years he’s been leading an initiative that describes itself as a “problem solving network” that is doing its bit to enhance the sector’s wellbeing.
As managing director of the Centre for Engineering Education & Development (CEED), Pacitti’s focus is on matching those who are facing an obstacle with experts who can help them overcome it.
“We are creating a dynamic where companies can help each other, and by doing that we also educate the people who run them,” he says.
This peer-to-peer learning process is proving popular among those who appreciate the opportunity to pool talents and get direct access to those who can provide immediate solutions, as well as with the experts offering their expertise. It also has support from government-backed organisations such as Scottish Enterprise who regard the self-help model as a valuable means of enriching the knowledge base.
‘In many cases it is opening up new channels for businesses on both sides’
“It’s a two-way process which means the ones giving advice often meet young businesses that may become suppliers or providers of a solution themselves,” he says. “In many cases it is opening up new channels for businesses on both sides.”
Aside from his postings with private sector employers, Pacitti spent eight years at Scottish Enterprise as part of the Locate in Scotland team, these days known as Scottish Development International. He worked with large global corporations and inward investment projects that took him overseas and meant being in the thick of the late 1990s action when some of the big original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) were still heading to Scotland.
He admits now that although the projects came to Scotland, many of the jobs that were promised never materialised. Even so, he says the presence of these companies, even on a smaller scale, helped evolve the manufacturing base and culture in Scotland.
“Our job was to look after these companies, make sure we delivered what we promised and encourage them to invest more. We also had to ensure there was a supply chain, the right people for the jobs on offer and that the links with universities were in place.
“It’s good that some of them are still here, some in a different form, but still making a valuable contribution to the economy.”
It was the sort of grounding that prepared him well for his current role where it is more likely he will be dealing with smaller companies looking for someone who can get them through a problem or a leg-up on their journey to the next stage of their development.
To that extent, he was a fan of the original Scottish Development Agency that preceded Scottish Enterprise. “Its model was based more on recruiting people from industry to draw on their experience and then see them return to the private sector,” he says.
‘Finding out what doesn’t work is often the best way to get to the solution’
CEED is adopting this principle of gathering best practice for the benefit of its members whose queries can range from a specifically mechanical problem to wider issues such as dealing with legislation and new standards or whether a company should expand, sell or buy another business.
Given the current climate there are is a steady flow of questions about net zero, flexible working and diversity.
“There also those who think they are about to fail and need someone to help,” he says. “It may just mean fixing a blockage somewhere. Finding out what doesn’t work is often the best way to get to the solution.”
He believes that despite the erosion of the manufacturing base in recent decades, the country remains capable of competing with the best as long as it continues to attract investment and maintain the required infrastructure.
“Can we build global companies in Scotland? We have the skills and supply chains and some promising companies such as Calnex [in Linlithgow] which are doing great things,” he says. “Some of them will be acquired, but you can be small and still be world class.”
Occupation: Engineering network leader
Education: Heriot-Watt University (mechanical engineeering)
Career highlights: A project engineer, production and quality manager, as well as various commercial roles with companies that included Ferranti, United Wire, Plexus, Tokheim and Fastran, moved to inward investment role at Scottish Enterprise, Stirling University Innovation Park, Stevenson College and Heriot Watt University.
What did you want to be when you were young?
Something technical. I come from a family of tradesmen and technicians.
What have you learned about yourself?
That not all solutions are black and white, but are shades of grey. The need to listen is important.
How do you relax?
Golf, dining out and “fixing stuff”.
Do you carry cash?
If you could invite three people, living or dead, to a fantasy dinner party who would you choose?
Seve Ballesteros (golfer)
James Dyson (inventor)
Sophia Loren (actress). As a boy I went with a friend to try and see her when she was signing books at John Menzies in Edinburgh.