Technology adoption is driving demand for digital skills

25 January 2021

Recent research from Made Smarter has revealed that eight out of 10 manufacturers have recognised gaps in their skills and knowledge could impact speed and scope of digitalisation.

SME manufacturers joining the Industry 4.0 revolution are driving up the demand for data science and software engineering skills, according to Made Smarter.

Half of the 126 businesses adopting technology with the support of the Made Smarter North West pilot in the UK have put data and systems integration at the heart of their productivity and growth plans.

By embracing technologies which connect disparate systems and unify data residing in different sources, companies are spotting trends in production, labour, maintenance and quality issues. They are also able to minimise safety risks, business risk and operational downtime throughout their production. However, while this technology is solving business challenges and driving growth, it is also highlighting a digital skills gap across industry and emphasising the need for existing workforces to be upskilled.

Ruth Hailwood, Made Smarter's specialist organisational and workforce development adviser, has worked with many of the 1,140 businesses engaged with Made Smarter’s pilot to map the skills they need to introduce new digital tools and technologies. She said: “The fact that 126 SME manufacturers have committed to investing in new technology projects in the two years since the pilot started, demonstrates the significant appetite for digital tools and solutions. And, the impact of COVID-19 has only accelerated the desire to speed up digital transformation.

“Data and systems integration projects have emerged as the enabler for businesses to embrace other technologies such as AI, IIOT, Simulation and analytics, taking in more than half of all funded projects. What has also become clear is that SME manufacturers lack the key data analytics skills to be able to make best use of what their data is telling them.

“With so many businesses using data and system integration technologies it is vital that companies invest in data science skills and software engineering to capitalise on all the new information. They need in-house skills to champion and drive projects forward.”

Made Smarter is helping bridge that gap with its digital technology internship programme which has so far connected 31 university students and graduates with SME manufacturers to work on live digital transformation projects.

Meanwhile, undergraduates, master’s and PhD students, as well as graduates from UK universities, are benefitting from paid work experience, valuable hands-on practical work experience, a taste of a potential career path, and a foot in the door of a forward-thinking company or industry. A number have even secured permanent jobs.

Beverston Engineering, a Knowsley-based manufacturer of components for safety critical industries such as aerospace, is implementing an ambitious digital strategy with the support of Made Smarter. Rod Wah, managing director at Beverston Engineering, said: “Data and systems integration sits at the core of our innovation strategy and the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies offers us a major opportunity to continue growing both our global reputation and our revenue. However, the digital skills we needed to take that first major step to realise our vision of a smart factory did not exist in our business, and bridging that skills gap is a major challenge.

“My experience is that it seems like traditional apprenticeships are still teaching the same thing that I did in the 1970s – rather than including the digital skills required by industry. Unless industry and education work together the skills gap is going to increase and hold back many businesses from taking advantage of the opportunities Industry 4.0 offers.”

A major barrier
The Made Smarter Review identified skills shortage as a major barrier to technology adoption and that businesses are being hindered by a fragmented skills system and a lack of systematic engagement between education and industry. Recent research by the Made Smarter North West Pilot revealed eight out of 10 manufacturers recognised that gaps in their skills and knowledge were potentially impacting on their ability to adopt digital technologies.

“The challenge manufacturing SMEs are facing is that the skills and training landscape is mixed. There are some very basic digital skills offerings, and then at the other extreme, the training is very technical and specialised. What’s missing is the in-between for SMEs. SME owners need something that focuses on building understanding of digital technologies and how they can be used as tools to take their business forward, taking away the fear of the unknown,” concluded Hailwood. “That is what Made Smarter is about, demystifying this technology and removing that fear factor. What is also needed for SMEs around specific skill sets, is training that has a high impact, is flexible to allow them to fit it around their workload and business demands and gives them practical skills to  implement straight away, bringing immediate benefit.”


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