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Technology adoption highlights skills shortage

Posted on 20 Jan 2021 and read 348 times
Technology adoption highlights skills shortageThe shopfloor at Beverston Engineering in Knowsley

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

SME manufacturers embracing the Industry 4.0 revolution are driving up the demand for data science and software engineering skills.

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

By investing in 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.

But 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 artificial intelligence (AR), industrial internet of things (IIOT), simulation and analytics, taking in more than half of all funded projects.

“But 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.”

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

SME manufacturers benefit from the fresh insight of a digital native to help them adopt technological tools that result in a raft of benefits, including increased revenue growth, reduced production time, and produce the data and insight for new product and market development.

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.

For example, Knowsley-based www.beverston.co.uk Beverston Engineering, a manufacturer of components for safety critical industries such as aerospace, is implementing an ambitious digital strategy with the support of Made Smarter.

Managing director Rod Wah 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.”

OliverBeverston has managed to partially plug that skills gap through Made Smarter’s digital technology internships with the help of Oliver Miller (pictured), a Master’s student in aerospace engineering at Liverpool University, who is developing a new quality management system.

He said: “The opportunities Industry 4.0 brings are really exciting, and I am keen to share that enthusiasm with colleagues at Beverston and upskill them as to the benefits of new technologies.

“As an SME, the native digital skills are not there, so it has been a great opportunity to share my experience of software, programming languages and other data skills, and what I have learnt during my studies.”

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.

Ms Hailwood added: “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 is 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.

“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.”