Automation can help improve productivity without taking on more staff

Posted on 15 Mar 2018 by Jonny Williamson

This year's Annual Manufacturing Report assess the 'state of the UK manufacturing nation', exploring everything from Smart Factorys and Automation, to Government Policy and Skills.

The national debate over whether automation and digital technology will lead to widespread job losses has not been settled. The Made Smarter (Industrial Digitalisation) Review that fed into the government’s greenpaper consultations on industrial strategy suggested job displacement would occur, but that training people for the jobs of the future would even out the losses.

The problem is that the report blurred the question of whether the people who lose their jobs today will be the ones who will be trained for the new ones tomorrow, something of a political hot potato that was left quietly, and not surprisingly, unaddressed.

That there will be ‘job displacement’ as the report characterised it is in no doubt.

Staffing Levels - Annual Manufacturing Report 2018

A very large majority of respondents – 92% – said that the technologies will either allow them to reduce headcount or improve productivity without taking on more people.

There is a theory that UK productivity has been lagging behind its international peers because employers have failed to invest in new technologies because wages are low and therefore the return on investment could not be justified.

The response to this question suggests that theory is no longer valid.

It is also encouraging to note that respondents saw this debate through the prism of global competitiveness, bucking the suspicion that UK companies are more interested in short-term profit taking than longer-term sustainability.

One note of caution: those involved in skills and training suggest that it is one thing to accept the proposition that staff will be more engaged and work smarter thanks to automated, digital technologies, but it is another to make it happen. Training and reskilling are vital.

Download your free copy of the Annual Manufacturing Report 2018, here

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