Sometimes an industry faced with unique challenges needs to establish an ambitious vision to reinvent itself for the future, in particular, Keeping the Great in Great British Manufacturing.
Here, I share my vision for a digital revolution in
the Great British manufacturing industry.
Remembering a Quality Heritage
Innovation and high-quality have always been
synonymous with our Great British manufacturers. In fact, many of the items we
use on a daily basis were invented in the UK. The economic pressures
surrounding our Great British manufacturing companies are well documented and
generally focused on how we remain competitive in an ever-changing commercial
and political landscape.
Across all sectors, operations have significantly
evolved and have ultimately become more sophisticated. The production of
complex products using hi-tech machines is intrinsically linked with heightened
levels of automation, the use of robots and the employment of advanced
processes. Product diversity is also growing in line with the market demand for
innovation, which also adds further complexity for our manufacturers.
Our ever-growing skills gap is yet another cause for
concern. Annually, there is a shortfall of 20,000 graduates entering the
manufacturing sector, despite over 50% of manufacturing businesses currently
training apprentices. This is further compounded as a third of our workers will
be over 50 by 2020, another challenge that the industry faces.
Yet the future is not necessarily bleak, it is very
bright for those who are ready to embrace change. This an opportunity for
manufacturing companies to set a new vision, to do things differently and
transform business operations.
Knowledge Transfer and the Next Generation
There is no doubt that manufacturing is complex and
poses a challenge for organisations trying to operate continuous improvement
processes. There is a vast amount of crucial knowledge locked within key
experienced employees, and these heroes are pivotal to the organisations that
employ them. They know exactly what should be done in order to keep
processes running. Generally, their knowledge is unique to them, built over
years of experience and rarely fully shared with others. Having so much
knowledge embedded in a single person represents a risk to businesses in a
sector which is haemorrhaging talent from the top and failing to reproduce it
at the bottom.
Companies should think urgently and creatively
about how they attract and retain employees, leveraging digital and mobile
technologies to better connect the knowledge in their people.
There are many forms of technology which allow
different parts of the operation to connect and facilitate the easy sharing of
Our heroes have two parts to play in this
Firstly, businesses should develop a process around
the transfer of knowledge to both the digital environment and their younger
employees. Digital process automation allows for better precision in the
execution of the manufacturing process. Knowledge transfer allows the
experienced employees to take a supervisory role, checking the process for
consistency. They oversee the graduates and younger workers, who embrace
technology more readily and together they achieve greater precision and
consistency – a winning formula.
2. Flexible Working
Secondly, the experienced heroes can transition to
a more ‘supportive’ role that embraces new technologies and different ways of
working. Embracing a flexible working environment will help businesses retain
ageing experts. Their knowledge can be transferred into the digital solution
and expertise passed onto the younger workforce whilst retaining their support
using mobile and digital collaboration tools.
Digitally enabled new flexible ways of working will
help businesses retain ageing experts. These individuals will benefit from new
flexible working arrangements and remote working enabling them to work longer
which can provide astonishing health benefits such as the maintenance of
cognitive and physical activity, the provision of a sense of identity and
unlimited access to social support. Overall, the aim is to create intrinsic
benefits of feeling productive and valued.
The Future is Bright
The time to act is now, if businesses don’t they
will face significant costs and be left in a poor position to take advantage of
the productivity enhancements promised by robotics, digital, artificial
intelligence and machine learning.
The future is bright and digital can help us illuminate it. The digital
revolution offers the opportunity for manufacturers to set a new vision. Not
only can they reinvent themselves and create significant productivity and
profitability improvements, but also through allowing new working practices to
be implemented that support both the employers’ and employees’ well-being and
aspirations enabling skill retention and removing the dependency on experienced