Manufacturing skills failing to keep pace with digital investment

Britain’s manufacturing sector is expected to suffer a major skills shortage post Brexit, as a new report finds investment in technology designed to help businesses better compete globally will dramatically outweigh investment in digital skills within the workforce.

Despite the majority of UK manufacturing companies confirming they plan to accelerate their digital transformation journeys following the UK’s departure from the EU, the ability to demonstrate strong digital leadership and develop the necessary capabilities among employees was not a priority.

While more than half (59 per cent) of manufacturers in Britain will be investing in new smart technology including AI, automation and robotics to support future growth plans, the report by Sheffield Hallam University and SSG Insight has revealed 85 per cent of manufacturers in Britain do not plan to upskill their current staff members, and just four per cent plan to recruit new digital native apprentices. More than a third (37 per cent) of decision makers expect it to be harder to source the right talent through in recruitment following Brexit.

The findings have been issued as a warning to manufacturers that a balance between investment in people and in technology is crucial, as the sector shifts towards becoming a highly digitised working environment. 

This latest industry snapshot draws on extensive research amongst the UK’s leading manufacturing executives. The report, Harnessing Brexit, Technology and Insight: British Manufacturers, a Competitive Edge in an Age of Uncertainty and Opportunity, is co-authored by Dr Hongwei Zhang and Professor Sameh Saad from Sheffield Hallam University and Jon Moody of SSG Insight. It discusses the optimism and concern around two of the most critical challenges facing modern Britain: Brexit and the relentless rise of technology, particularly in the form of Industry 4.0.

Dr Zhang, Principal Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, said: “There is already a global shortage of professionals with technical digital and IT skills, so hiring new talent is only a partial solution. Reskilling the existing workforce through continuous learning and development will be key for all manufacturing organisations.

“Employers as well as teachers and academics need to champion tech so that innovation in the workforce is nurtured and the digital demands of the changing economic landscape can be met.”

SSG Insight has earned an impressive reputation for delivering world-class data analysis, helping British manufacturers compete globally by effectively managing their assets to drive better business performance. Jon Moody, Chief Product Officer, said: “The UK is entering unknown territory with Industry 4.0 and Brexit. Whilst Industry 4.0 presents an unprecedented opportunity to revitalise the UK manufacturing sector and position it as a global centre of excellence, it is crucial that manufacturers develop strategies for continuous upskilling of their employees to keep pace with technological innovation.”

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