The British are a curious breed: torn between tradition and modernity, we welcome the new while embracing the old. This has led to some interesting 21st-Century revamps of British institutions, from the slick re-design of the London red bus, to the introduction of free wi-fi in telephone boxes.
The same cannot always be said for attitudes towards change within engineering, which are arguably hampering any opportunity for growth and development. In fact, our recent white paper has revealed than an archaic attitude towards data sharing may be one of the biggest hindrances to preparing for this decade’s most important technological development – Industry 4.0.
Despite being hailed as the future of British manufacturing, there are significant roadblocks ahead, not least an unstable government and the UK’s departure from the EU. For our customers, however, it is the skills gap that is waving one red flag.
Education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects has arguably stagnated in recent years, which has led to a reliance on talent from the European Union to keep the home fires burning. The possibility of a “hard Brexit” will significantly reduce this access, forcing manufacturers to look at the pool of home-grown talent to pick up the slack.
But are we ready for it? Not according to the data, which have shown a yearly increase of eight per cent in the skills gap over the last five years. In fact, two-thirds of employers are finding it difficult to fill their vacancies, which is affecting their profitability and growth.
Our own report revealed that 13 per cent of correspondents were worried about a lack of skills, but perhaps more concerning was their evaluation of their own capabilities to analyse data, with 46 per cent admitting that they didn’t have, or didn’t know if they had, the capabilities to do this in-house.
This may be due to a determination to hold on to what we know, or to avoid change in favour of the status quo. Data sharing in particular seems to be a contentious point when considering the future of manufacturing, primarily because it flies in the face of what has been done traditionally. Yet, if we want to exploit the full potential of Industry 4.0, we will have to find a way of educating UK manufacturing on the benefits of data sharing. For senior management, of whom only 15 per cent would offer full disclosure of machine or product data, this may take some convincing.
Should we then turn to the younger generation who, perhaps unsurprisingly, are more at ease with the concept of data sharing in manufacturing? They may be open to change, but 59 per cent of employers doubt that engineering and technology degrees are adequately preparing graduates for work in the real manufacturing world. We will need these young people to harness the full potential of the Industrial Internet of Things, but we will also need to make sure that they enter work as well-rounded, fully-fledged engineers, researchers, developers and manufacturers.
We seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place – between a generation that is suspicious of change, and a generation that’s ready to embrace change without the skills they need to cover the basics. Instead, there will need to be a combined effort on the part of government, industry, the educational system and the individual, to train and educate the workforce, both new and old, for the factory of the future.
Manufacturing is as much a part of a proud British tradition as the red double-decker bus. It’s time to re-develop it for the 21st Century, and Industry 4.0 will be the perfect place to start.
‘Is the UK ready for Industry 4.0? Industrial maintenance in a world of Big Data’ is available to download here: http://knowhow.eriks.co.uk/industry4download
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