Keeping the Great in Great British Manufacturing

May 9, 2021
Ian Turmeau

Operating Partner

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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 information.

Our heroes have two parts to play in this development;

1. Leveraging Digital

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 employees.