Car industry engineers and executives, together with educationalists, are being given the chance to to learn the secrets of Japanese manufacturing efficiency first hand.
A programme of study visits to Japan is being organised jointly by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders' Birmingham-based Industry Forum and Automotive Academy.
They will visit carmakers such as Honda, Nissan and Toyota as well as some of their suppliers.
Trips to electronics groups such as Sony and Toshiba will also be included in the itineraries.
The visits, which will last two weeks, will give delegates unprecedented access to manufacturing processes which are the envy of the world and which are rarely duplicated effectively by non-Japanese companies.
The visit programme, which begins in the autumn, has been made possible by a network of contacts made by SMMT Industry Forum director Arthur David, who formerly worked for Nissan, and Industry Forum executive co-ordinator Koji Wanaka who was a senior official at Honda.
A group of 20 industrialists and education staff have recently returned from a successful pilot visit which included detailed briefings by senior Japanese managers and executives.
Mr David said that while no-one in manufacturing could fail to benefit from the visits, the skills shortages facing industry had convinced the Industry Forum of the benefits of involving further education staff as well.
"To tackle the skills issue there are now proper, validated courses giving recognised qualifications in the skills that manufacturers need," Mr David said.
"However it is vital that the people delivering and assessing these courses are right up to date with the latest thinking in terms of lean manufacturing, quality, waste elimination, cost, efficiency and delivery.
"We often say 'be careful who you learn from' and what better way of ensuring that the quality of the learning experience is as good as it can be than learning at first hand from the best in the world?"
One delegate on the pilot visit was David Cheetham, principal of Gateshead College, Tyne & Wear, who said: "The SMMT is to be congratulated on having the foresight to arrange for engineers and managing directors recruited from the UK's automotive sector, together with representatives of the further education sector, to experience first hand the world-class performance of Japan's leading automotive manufacturers.
"Spending two weeks observing how these business perform to such a consistent and high level was an eyeopening experience and has radically changed my view of how my college should be working with the automotive sector in the region."
The first visit in 2005 is planned for mid-October, with another scheduled for the end of November. The travel package includes return flights to Japan, a hotel in Tokyo, internal travel in Japan, interpreters, and the support of experienced staff.
Further details can be obtained from Arthur David at the SMMT Industry Forum on 0121 717 6600.