Failing to embrace digital transformation risks jobs & investment

The UK risks missing out on manufacturing jobs and investment if it fails to embrace the opportunities and prepare its workforce for technological transformation, a leading advanced manufacturing expert has warned.

Dr Lina Huertas, head of technology strategy for digital manufacturing, Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC).
Dr Lina Huertas, head of technology strategy for digital manufacturing, Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC).

Currently, there is an urgent need to embrace technology through training, according to Dr Lina Huertas – head of technology strategy for digital manufacturing at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC).

Dr Huertas made the comment ahead of this year’s Digitalising Manufacturing Conference, organised by the MTC and held at the Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre in Coventry.

There is a huge opportunity and potential to recruit people from outside manufacturing, bringing in a wide variety of new perspectives and skills, she noted.

“Changes in manufacturing are helping to make industrial careers more exciting and relevant; however, this disruption is also making the idea of a ‘job for life’ obsolete. However, we won’t ‘lose’ jobs, so long as companies are willing to invest in their people, upskilling and retraining them.

“It’s not a case that technology means leaving manufacturing and engineering behind, rather that digital tools allow us to do the same job but better, quicker and more effectively. That frees up time to focus on what it is you’re trying to achieve – the ‘value-added’ aspect.”

Digitalising Manufacturing 2018: Grasping the Opportunity saw some of Europe’s leading experts on the digital revolution sweeping through the manufacturing industry explain how this ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ opens up huge potential for UK manufacturers, but companies need a strategy and have to invest in skills and technology to reap the benefits.

You can read my overview, including the key takeaways, here.

The world’s major manufacturing companies are now looking for a digitally-enabled supply chain and employees who have the knowledge and technological skills to support an end-to-end digital transformation, she told me.

Dr Huertas added that traditional stable jobs were being replaced by dynamic careers in digital manufacturing. Something the UK must recognise and prepare its factories and workforce for the change, otherwise global companies could migrate to more digitally mature economies where talent is available.

Dr Huertas explained: “In the 1970s and 80s, Japanese companies leapfrogged the UK and Europe in terms of competitiveness and productivity by adopting new manufacturing processes and putting people at the centre of the change.

“There is a danger this could happen again as the world’s economies wake up to the digital revolution that is happening now. The major manufacturers need a supply chain with a talent pool of people prepared for the changes that technology brings.

“There is evidence that the UK is already losing out in the field of automation, with manufacturers moving to economies where the skills are available, such as Germany and Japan. It is vital that our schools, colleges and factories prepare people for the skills required in a digital economy.

“If we can do that we will anchor the supply chain for high value manufacturing sectors in the UK. This will generate increased economic benefits and sustained social benefits through the generation of high value jobs.”