Lancashire firms' adoption of technology is highlighting a skill gap

SME manufacturers in the county joining the Industry 4.0 revolution are driving up the demand for data science and software engineering skills, according to Made Smarter, the movement helping businesses grow through technology adoption.

By Tim Gavell
Monday, 25th January 2021, 7:00 am

Some 34 of the 48 technology projects being adopted by Lancashire businesses with the support of the Made Smarter North West pilot, have data and systems integration at their heart.

It said by embracing technologies which connect disparate systems and unify data residing in different sources, companies were spotting trends in production, labour, maintenance and quality issues. They were also able to minimise safety risks, business risk and operational downtime throughout their production.

But while this technology is solving business challenges and driving growth, Made Smarter said it was also highlighting a digital skills gap and emphasising the need for upskilling of workforces.

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Made Smarter says there is great demand for specialist computer and analysis skills in the county

Ruth Hailwood, Made Smarter’s specialist organisational and workforce development adviser, said: “The fact that so many SME manufacturers across the region have committed to investing in new technology projects in the two years since the pilot started, demonstrates the significant appetite for digital tools and solutions,” she said. “And the impact of COVID-19 has only accelerated the desire to speed up digital transformation.

“Data and systems integration projects have emerged as the enabler for businesses to embrace other technologies such as AI, IIOT, Simulation and analytics, taking in more than half of all funded projects

“But what has also become clear is that SME manufacturers lack the key data analytics skills to be able to make best use of what their data is telling them.

“With so many businesses using data and system integration technologies it is vital that companies invest in data science skills and software engineering to capitalise on all the new information. They need in-house skills to champion and drive projects forward.”

Made Smarter said one way to tackle this was via its digital technology internship programme which has so far connected 31 university students and graduates with SME manufacturers to work on live digital transformation projects.

SME manufacturers benefit from the fresh insight of a digital native to help them adopt technological tools that result in a raft of benefits, including increased revenue growth, reduced production time, and produce the data and insight for new product and market development.

Meanwhile, undergraduates, master’s and PhD students, as well as graduates from UK universities, are benefitting from paid work experience, valuable hands-on practical work experience, a taste of a potential career path, and a foot in the door of a forward-thinking company or industry. A number have even secured permanent jobs.