Manufacturing’s Technology and Workforce Challenge

Although manufacturing has come a long way in recent years, there are still Brexit concerns and the threat of a skills shortage in the coming decade, therefore the challenge is to successfully implement revolutionary technologies, and a national level skills strategy.

According to EEF research, 73% of manufacturers say they struggle to recruit skilled people and that access to recruit skilled people is a particular challenge and might make it difficult for UK manufacturers to succeed in a fiercely competitive global marketplace.

As the UK faces up to the potential risks and opportunities that new technologies bring, it is ever more important for manufacturing companies to have access to a sustainable supply of recruits with the right skills.

The apprenticeship levy has already stimulated some change in company behaviours, but to answer the manufacturing skills challenge, what’s required is a systematic approach to education and skills, technologies and supply chains, and local and national workforce needs.

According to The Annual Manufacturing Report 2018, 71% believe apprenticeships are developing into a proper alternative to higher education for school leavers, but a significant number believe the government’s new Apprenticeship Levy, designed to recruit 3m more apprentices in the coming years, has backfired, with 59% saying it is little more than a tax on employment.

87% of respondents said they are ready to invest in productivity-enhancing digital technologies, while 61% said they can self-finance the investment or raise the money from lenders.

The latest Industrial Revolution digital technologies is known as Industry 4.0. In the industrial strategy green paper it stated that UK manufacturers needed to accelerate adoption of Industry 4.0 to be competitive with countries where adoption rates are much higher.

The report’s author, The Manufacturer’s Editorial Director Nick Peters, said: “It isn’t that manufacturers don’t trust the extraordinary power and potential of these technologies – they manifestly do, but they are following a familiar narrative established over previous decades and successive governments.

“They hesitate because they sense a lack of national economic purpose from the centre. Hopefully the government’s anticipated new industrial strategy will resolve that. What will be much more difficult to deal with is the scarcity of skilled recruits coming out of education and via immigration, now and in the future, and the extreme uncertainty caused by Brexit.”

Engineering UK’s 2016 report points to an annual shortfall of 29,000 people with level 4+skills, and doubts our education system will be able to meet forecast demand for skilled engineers and technicians by 2022.

A Made Smarter UK review claimed that the UK lacks effective leadership in digital manufacturing technologies, proposing recommendations for the UK to boost their use in order to become a global leader in the field.

The review called for a national change in approach to innovation, specific monetary investment in skills, to identify the areas of skills shortages, promote good practice and push for training consistency.

Could re-training one million manufacturing workers to deal with new tech be the key to bringing people with the right skills into the recruitment marketplace?

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