From NASA to the Canadian Rockies – meet the Somerset firm putting Minehead on the map

Singer Instruments
The aim of the Devon & Somerset Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) is to make sure our region’s businesses have access to the skills they need for the future. We spoke to Robbie Devlin and Katie Parrington from Somerset-based Singer Instruments about the implications of LSIP.

Perched on the edge of Exmoor National Park is a state-of-the-art company you’ve probably never heard of which is responsible for some of the world’s most exciting new technology.

Contrary to popular belief, Singer Instruments does NOT make sewing machines. Nor does it build cars, or create musical instruments.

What it does do is develop and manufacture high-tech mechatronic workstations and laboratory automation robotics which are used to facilitate and accelerate genetic and genomic research across the world.

Established in West Somerset some 85 years ago, the family-run firm supplies public and private research institutions in multiple facets of biological sciences including genetics, neuroscience, systems biology, cancer biology, biofuel engineering and microbiology.

The Devon & Somerset Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) has been put in place to ensure businesses like Singer Instruments have the right skills at their disposal to continue to thrive in the future.

If you are an employer in Devon or Somerset, please share your views by completing the short form on the Devon & Somerset LSIP website.

Singer Instruments

Accelerating the world’s scientific research for the betterment of humanity

Robbie Devlin, Director of Operations at Singer Instruments, explains: “Our goal is to accelerate the world’s scientific research for the betterment of humanity.

“Over the years the direction of the company has changed, and it has evolved to become less about the engineering and more about the science.

“That’s when we really started getting involved in the science aspect – understanding the science, rather than asking customers what they want, and providing solutions for them.

“That led to some more innovation and more robotics. We now have a fleet of eight products which we sell all over the world – anyone who is doing really proactive biology.”

Singer Instruments’ customers range from Nobel Laureates and NASA, to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Civilian Criminal Investigators (CCI). Their equipment is used by Impossible Foods and Spiber, and you’ll also find it in ALL of the top 50 universities in the world!

A responsibility to science

Their tagline is ‘A responsibility to science’ and acts as a continual reminder for the firm to do its utmost to support, develop new technology, and add as much value as possible to the science and the scientific community it serves.

Robbie says: “We’re a very globally high-profile company with quite a low profile in Somerset, which is something we’d like to change.

“We want to develop the pipeline of talent locally as much as possible. We’re committed to the area and barring something ultra drastic happening, the plan is to stay in West Somerset.

“Everybody knows Minehead for Butlin’s, but want them to know Minehead for Singer Instruments and get the message across about what we do.

“People think we’re purely just a research centre for biology research. We want to sell science as a service and we’ve got grand plans. We’re not going to be able to do that without a regular pulse of people coming through the talent network.

“But we also want the best people globally and nationally as well. As much as it pains us, if the skills are not local, then we’ll expand our reach and try to bring people to the area, which is not a bad thing either.”

Singer Instruments

A truly integrated and respected member of the genetics research community

Singer Instruments has a 70-strong team which operates from two sites – their original headquarters in Roadwater and a new laboratory in Minehead which they moved to 18 months ago.

Having worked alongside and added value to laboratory research for more than 40 years, the firm has established itself as a truly integrated and respected member of the genetics research community.

Katie Parrington, HR Officer at Singer Instruments, says: “I think it’s a balance, because it’s great to have diversity – we need that to have an innovative, forward-thinking decisive team which is all about what we are. Continuous improvement is a big tagline of everything we do, and we need a wide set of brains and different experiences.

“We want to tap into our local area, but in order to get that real diversity of people who have experienced different things we’re extending our plans for increasing our pipeline.

“Part of being involved in the new LSIP is to get that understanding and to network more so that we can have stronger links with education providers for our STEM outreach.”

“We’ve joined LSIP to get our name out there, attract people in and continue to build that pipeline, because there are some niche roles that we will need to fill.

“Some roles we don’t know what we will need yet because the future is changing and evolving, and our research and our understanding of what customers need and want for the next five, ten or more years, the jobs haven’t been created yet. So it’s about being ahead of the curve so that we’re listening to global changes and responding to them.”

The career and the workspace is a bigger entity than the role

Together, the Devon & Somerset LSIP team will work with universities, colleges and training providers to ensure the voice of employers is at the forefront of a skills agenda that meets the needs of the economies across both counties.

A skilled workforce is crucial if our region’s businesses are to survive and thrive in this increasingly uncertain economic environment.

Katie says: “Some of those skills, you almost don’t want people who are too niche because it does them a disservice. You want people, particularly those youngsters who have been impacted by the pandemic and not had the opportunity to communicate and get part-time jobs.

“Some of those soft, essential skills that come through naturally, they’re not there. Part of what we feed back to colleges is to spend and invest time in building those communication, management and leadership skills.

“We can teach the skills of the technical side of the job, but it’s those skills that will bring the leaders in and drive change in a company which should have more weight. The career and the workspace is a bigger entity than the role.”

Singer Instruments

A big opportunity to make change happen

Businesses have been saying for years about how there aren’t enough of the right sort of skills in the local workforce and need help to raise the profile of the area and the rewarding careers available.

The LSIP aims to work with employers and skills providers to redress that balance and fill any skills gaps which will, in turn, benefit businesses and staff.

Robbie says: “The objective of the LSIP is to get people into meaningful work and create meaningful employment. We need people who put continuous improvement at the heart of their ethos in whatever skills they’re doing. 

“That potentially almost creates a two-tier employment system where you have high skills, high reward and low skills, low reward, which is not good. Businesses need to get better at getting better at creating a pathway from low tier to high tier.

“We don’t necessarily need more engineers. We need engineers doing the right things, and if you can simplify stuff, you’ll see an improvement.”

Katie adds: “It will be interesting to see what happens with the Devon & Somerset LSIP. I think that employers need to have a big seat at the table when it comes to course content. It is a big opportunity to make change happen.”

If you are an employer in Devon or Somerset, please share your views by completing the short form on the Devon & Somerset LSIP website.