Manufacturing 'badly needs more tech skills'

More than nine out of 10 UK manufacturing companies have benefited from the adoption of new technology during the current pandemic, according to a new report.

Union Jack flag with illustrations of British industry
But the Covid-19 outbreak has highlighted "a serious lag between the UK’s ambitions to be a world leader in digital adoption, and our skills and training system delivering what is needed".

UK workforce recommendations of Make UK and Sage

The report - ‘Digital Skills for a Digital Manufacturing Future’ from the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK and enterprise software company Sage - calls for a digital skills account to provide employees with access to life-long learning needed and the creation of a National Skills Taskforce to develop a digital skills programme."The last six months have shown that digital has been crucial in making it possible for manufacturers to continue production successfully against a backdrop of Covid - highlighting the need to ramp up digital skills within the manufacturing sector even further as companies move to build future resilience and boost productivity," said Stephen Phipson, CEO at Make UK.

"Most companies put some of their workers on furlough but, sadly, the subsequent fall in demand has meant that some highly skilled people have gone on to lose their jobs. As the sector fights to get its order books back to something like normal, it is crucially important that we do everything possible to keep hold of these skilled people who are currently unemployed."This is why government must work with industry to set up a National Skills Taskforce to match those skilled workers with employers who so desperately need those skills alongside developing a lifelong learning programme to constantly upskill existing employees."Manufacturers should also look to harness the power of young people who are digitally fluent to fully embrace digitalisation throughout UK manufacturing."

UK manufacturers turn to new technology, boosting productivity

The report says that 91% of manufacturers turned to new technology after the pandemic struck, with a quarter reporting a resultant boost in productivity. Four-fifths of companies said they now planned to continue employing technologies they recently adopted.Unusually, perhaps, the analysis found that small companies, with fewer than 10 employees, and large companies, with more than a thousand workers, were the ones most likely to have turned to tech during the health crisis.However, a third of companies admitted they had not invested in any digital training in the past year and two-thirds of manufacturers believed education and training systems were not keeping pace with the adoption of new digital technologies.

Support needed to bridge the UK digital skill gaps

Robert Sinfield, manufacturing vice-president at Sage, said, "This Make UK research is promising, yet also acts as a stark reminder of the challenges businesses, particularly manufacturers, face in the coming months."It is clear the 91% of manufacturers that have benefited from the adoption of new technology understand the importance of digital; the ones that have invested and adopted in digital are the ones that have adapted quickest."As two-thirds of manufacturers don’t think the education and training system is fit for purpose to help them adopt of new digital technologies, we now need to look at what support there is for them to bridge any digital skills gaps."Sage’s own research with Capital Economics also found that digital is key for businesses to remain resilient, with 67% wanting to invest more in tech to deliver performance improvements."So, there is a clear tangible desire from businesses to invest in digital with great benefits to be had. It is now up to the government and industry to jointly address the support needed to nurture and grow these skills to help reduce unemployment and strengthen our sector."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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