Closing the skills gap through investment in people and technology

19 May 2020

To tackle the skills gap and keep the UK engineering sector needs to invest in both people and technology says Graeme Wright, chief digital officer, Manufacturing, Utilities and Services at Fujitsu UK.

The skills gap could cost the UK economy an estimated £120 billion by 2030. With a new digital age – where engineering organisations, products and services will increasingly rely on connected technologies – just around the corner, this gap must be addressed.

In the UK today 44% of organisations leaders say they have not planned radically enough for the future. And of the same respondents, 37% see the most necessary change for the future as being training and reskilling of employees. To overcome this, it’s important for organisations to attract and retain the right employees. A key element of this is breaking down existing barriers and shattering pre-conceived ideas of a career in engineering. 

Organisations should consider partnerships with Government and educational institutions, for instance, as a means of finding staff with the right skillset. Partnerships can enable the creation of virtual engineering worlds and provide role models from an engineering background to meet with, and be shadowed by, students. This collaboration is key to showcase the excitement an engineering career can offer a young person, encouraging children to explore the different career options in the industry that might be available to them.

Young people are digital natives and will provide a wealth of knowledge to allow organisations to innovate. It’s important to invest in them to keep up with the digital disruption that is changing business landscapes faster and more significantly than ever before.

Jobs are constantly evolving, and as a result continuous learning should be encouraged and put in place. There is a skills pipeline needed to fuel this technological disruption and it is important that employers can keep up so that their employees can too. With the market moving so quickly, organisations must ensure the workforce have the right skills in place to build upon as times change.

For example, many organisations are moving away from the ‘traditional’ factory. This means factories need to be managed as part of a ‘smart factory’, using technologies like IoT (the internet of things) as well as the better use of data in existing industrial control systems. The skills needed to use certain equipment will need to change, so engineers in this space will have to be educated in the skills needed to accommodate this, such as analytics, AI and cyber security.

The power of technology 
The good news is that technology can go some way to bridging the skills gap. 

Organisations can look at utilising emerging technologies – such as virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), for example. It has the potential to change the way education and skills are delivered to people of any age. It creates engaging training that can be deployed anywhere, enabling learners to experience all types of workplace environments without having to leave the office, university, college or classroom. 

Not only can organisations use technology to educate, it’s also a way for them to bridge beyond more than the skills gap. By applying technologies like robotic process automation, drones and automation, employees can be freed up to solve the complex issues which machines cannot. As a result, the jobs that are often dangerous can be left to machines while employees perform higher value, lower risk tasks. 

Ultimately, education and technology are the powerful tools engineering organisations should be investing in sooner rather than later. For engineering organisations to grow and embrace the opportunity that technology has provided, as well as keep pace in the age of digital disruption, they must ensure there is a future pipeline of talent and continuous investment in the talent of today.

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