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Digital upskilling pushes UK manufacturing through COVID crisis

Last week, we looked at how accelerating your firm’s digital plans can help you weather the storm and plan for post-Covid survival. We are delighted to read this week that new research, has found that nearly half of British manufacturing companies switched to digital working practices within just two weeks of lockdown.

The report ‘Digital Skills for a Digital Manufacturing Future’, published by Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation and Sage states that 94% of companies said they had staff working successfully from home in industries often associated with manual tasks and a high proportion of production-based work.

Research Findings

Some 91% of those manufacturers benefitted from adopting new digital technologies during the crisis. And eight out of 10 companies said they would continue to adopt new working practices having seen the quick benefits.

A quarter of companies polled found utilising new digital technologies had boosted productivity and 12% said it had increased production levels.

87% of manufacturers said investing in digital training gave them a competitive advantage, and nearly two-thirds (64%) had undertaken training to improve digital skills in the last 12 months. Interestingly, it was the very smallest and largest companies which were more likely to have taken on such training – 83% of companies with up to nine employees and 94% employing more than 1000 staff.

Covid-19 has had an unprecedented impact on businesses across all sectors, the economy and on peoples’ health and livelihoods. As we reflect on the impact of the pandemic, we should also take stock of the positive changes that have occurred and leverage the opportunities that they present. The national lockdown continues to force many companies to ‘flick the switch’ on digital transformations that otherwise would have taken years to plan and implement. The Manufacturing industry has been quick to the mark in these respects, despite traditionally being manual task-orientated with a large proportion of production-based work – they’ve done it and continue to do it well!

The use of digital has also accelerated innovation plans, with Covid-19 acting as the leading force for digital transformation plans in many cases by more than five years. It is estimated that work from home restrictions and social distancing has forced collaboration and doing business online, to a point where over 80% of companies have indicated that accelerating their digital transformation is now their strategic priority.

Training and digital upskilling

The fast-emergence of new skills has enabled the quick adoption of digital technology in manufacturing, so that remote production and monitoring systems can keep vital productive lines working effectively and at capacity. This is one of the key positives to emerge from the crisis. This new ‘blended working’ approach, (a mix of collaborating in the office and working from home) has delivered brand new operational intelligence.  Innovative business leaders have been responsive to these challenges, adapted their plans, looking at the business and production landscape, and taken the opportunity to move their businesses forward with new skills and competencies. The pandemic has inadvertently prepared many teams for an already changing digital landscape. We don't want to lose creativity and innovation, so part of ensuring that we have effective blended working is to still have periods of time to bring the team together to get them acting as a catalyst for that creativity and innovation.

Dramatic changes have taken place in certain sectors in a really short period of time. Many that have adapted and pushed forward down the digital transformation route have seen a reduction in costs, workers who are happier and wider organisational goals being reached in terms of sustainability, diversity and innovation. And all of this is saving time and time is money.

Although we’ve seen an unavoidable depression in many sectors, such as hospitality, catering, and public events, there are still those that are benefitting from a digital-led recovery.  Innovation, entreprenuerial spirit and creativity has led to many companies in these sectors shifting to doing their business online and harnessing more technology.

Stephen Phipson, CEO of Make UK, the manufacturers organisation said:

“The last six months have shown that digital has been crucial in making it possible for manufacturers to continue production successfully against a backdrop of COVID – highlighting the need to ramp up digital skills within the manufacturing sector even further as companies move to build future resilience and boost productivity.

Most companies put some of their workers on furlough but sadly the subsequent fall in demand has meant that some highly skilled people have gone on to lose their jobs. As the sector is fights to get its order books back to something like normal, it is crucially important that we do everything possible to keep hold of these skilled people who are currently unemployed. This is why government must work with industry to set up a National Skills Taskforce to match those skilled workers with employers who so desperately need those skills alongside developing a lifelong learning programme to constantly upskill existing employees.

Manufacturers should also look to harness the power of young people who are digitally fluent to fully embrace digitalisation throughout UK manufacturing.”

So it seems, digitalisation is no longer an option, but a matter of survival. Businesses are making progress by increasing the focus on digital training, processes, operations and embracing the technologies that will ensure business continuity and a trading future, ready for the post-Covid world.


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