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The digital revolution is an opportunity

20 June, 2024

Digitalisation could help to create a future where industry thrives, with UK manufacturers producing high-quality goods and competing on a global stage. Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for automation, argues that digital transformation has the potential not only to secure existing jobs, but also to create new and exciting opportunities.

It’s been a while since I’ve discussed digitalisation. The spectre of automation replacing human workers in UK manufacturing is a familiar one. Headlines scream about job losses, painting a bleak picture of a future with factory floors devoid of skilled labourers. However, this narrative overlooks a crucial aspect of digitalisation – its potential to create new opportunities and propel UK into a global leadership position in manufacturing.

While some repetitive and mundane tasks will undoubtedly be automated, digitalisation will not simply eliminate jobs. It didn’t do so in previous revolutions, and it certainly won’t in this evolution. Instead, it will usher in a transformation of the workforce. The focus will shift from manual labour to skilled roles in areas such as data analysis, robotics maintenance and system design. New jobs will emerge in areas such as cybersecurity, ensuring the smooth operation of increasingly complex digital infrastructures.

I can name at least 10 jobs available today which didn’t exist 10 years ago, or may have existed but didn’t require a full-time job. 

This transition requires a proactive approach to upskilling and reskilling the existing workforce. Government initiatives and collaboration with industry leaders are crucial to equip current employees with the digital literacy needed to thrive in the new manufacturing landscape. Apprenticeship programmes and training courses tailored to the specific needs of the industry will bridge the skills gap and ensure a smooth transition.

This is something that Gambica and its members are passionate about. With our wide network and expertise, we believe we can help to influence the programmes offered to ensure that they include all the required skills for an employee in automation. 

Digitalisation isn't just about efficiency; it's about precision. Automation allows for tighter control over production processes, reducing human error and leading to more consistent product quality. Advanced sensors and real-time data analysis can detect anomalies in production lines, preventing defective products from reaching the market. This commitment to quality will not only enhance brand reputation but also reduce waste and rework, leading to significant cost savings. Most companies have goals to achieve these benefits, yet are frequently unsure exactly how to do so.

In a globalised economy, efficiency and quality are paramount if UK manufacturers are to compete. By embracing digitalisation, factories can become more responsive to market demands. Faster production cycles with reduced downtime will allow manufacturers to meet tighter deadlines and adapt to fluctuating customer demands. Additionally, automation can reduce production costs significantly, making UK-made goods more competitive internationally. This ability to adapt and compete on a global scale will create new markets for UK exports, potentially leading to a growth in jobs in sectors beyond the factory floor. 

Human ingenuity remains key and always will, as far as I’m concerned. The creativity of a human mind is far beyond that of which a machine can “learn”. However, it's important to remember that automation is a tool, not a replacement for human ingenuity. The human element remains critical for problem-solving, innovation and strategic decision-making. Digitalisation frees up skilled workers to focus on higher-level tasks, such as design, research and development, and product improvement. This allows for the creation of more innovative and technologically advanced products, further solidifying the UK’s position at the forefront of manufacturing excellence. 

The success of this digital transformation hinges on collaboration. Partnerships between government, industry leaders and educational institutions, are vital for creating a framework that supports both technological advancement and workforce development. Gambica hopes to achieve this through our many different special interest groups, such as our University and Industry collaboration group, our Young Council, as well as constant collaboration with the UK government, and producing documents on behalf of our members, such as the Gambica manifesto which you can find on our Web site.

The digital revolution in UK manufacturing is not a threat, but an opportunity. By embracing automation and upskilling the workforce, the UK can create a future where manufacturing thrives, producing high-quality goods, and competing on a global stage. This digital transformation has the potential not only to secure existing jobs, but also to create new and exciting opportunities, propelling the UK manufacturing sector into a future filled with innovation and prosperity.

 

* Gambica is the trade association for the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology sectors in the UK. You can get in touch with Nikesh Mistry on 020 7642 8094 or nikesh.mistry@gambica.org.uk, or via the Gambica Web site: www.gambica.org.uk 




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