Q and A feature: Upskilling for Industry 4.0

An expert panel discusses how UK manufacturing can ensure it has the skills to make the most of Industry 4.0

A critical consideration for any company looking to go down the Industry 4.0 route is ensuring that it has the right skills to fully understand and exploit this rapidly evolving area of technology.

In this Q&A feature we asked some of UK’s key Industry 4.0 stakeholders how the concept is changing UK manufacturing’s skills requirements and what measure employers can take to ensure that they have the right skills on board?

Meet the panel

Nikki Jones (NJ) Director of the University of Sheffield AMRC Training Centre.

Based in Sheffield the AMRC training centre works with employers to identify and provide the skills that manufacturing companies need to compete globally, from apprenticeship through to doctorate and MBA level.

Donna Edwards (DE), Programme Director for the Made Smarter North West Pilot

The Made Smarter North West Pilot is testing out the most effective ways to engage with manufacturers and encourage them to adopt technologies.

Brian Holliday (BH), Managing Director for Siemens Digital Factory 

Siemens is at the forefront of driving Industry 4.0 adoption in the UK and It’s Digital Factory Division offers  a portfolio of technologies to help manufacturers embrace the vision.

How is Industry 4.0 shaping the manufacturing sector’s skills requirements?

NJ: I4.0 is demanding a much more diverse skill set within manufacturers. A requirement to understand data flows, and the potential value of data, while at the same time retaining expert knowledge means we are now developing the need for more digitally-enabled engineers.

Inside the AMRC Training Centre

The skills required include a knowledge of what data could be useful to capture – this allows the identification of the right sensors to capture the required data; of data flows and the interoperability of data; of the use of Artificial Intelligence and analytic tools to convert this data into information; of the application of expertise in the interpretation of this information; and the use of Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality and digital twins to deliver knowledge to the engineer.

BH:  Firstly, we’re going to need the domain and process skills of people who work in our factories today. Industry 4.0 will augment human effort, rather than replace it, but there are also many new roles emerging in app development, sensing, robotics, data analytics and virtualisation. This means today’s employees will need to develop new capabilities and embrace new tools and digital methods.

Overall, we will need more automation and software engineers, people who can operate between the virtual and real worlds as we adopt increasingly sophisticated digital twins of products and production processes. New entrants to industry will need to be agile, digitally competent, creative, collaborative and practical. It’s really important we work together as industry and academia to develop the right applied learning and training pathways to help achieve these outcomes.

DE: The government review which led to Made Smarter identified that UK manufacturers will increasingly need to compete by creating value through the smart use of Industrial Digital Technologies. One of the biggest barriers to IDT adoption is the lack of skills. The skills shortage is particularly acute in industry, where there are shortages of engineers, product designers and within other key manufacturing trades, especially at the higher technical levels (e.g. Level 4/foundation degree equivalent). If the UK is going to lead the way in digitalising manufacturing  it needs enough people with the skills to support them, either within current businesses or as pioneers at start-ups.

What is your organisation doing to address this skills gap?

NJ: Our strategy for the Training Centre is to grow our engineering apprenticeships and to work closely with industry partners to develop a curriculum that meets the changing needs of manufacturing businesses. We work hand-in-hand with our Industry Board and wider employer base to ensure our curriculum is aligned to Local Enterprise Partnership priorities, including digitalisation in manufacturing. We have moved away from frameworks in apprenticeships and now deliver the new standards that incorporate the drive to Industry 4.0.  We have also developed degree provision to meet the higher and diverse needs of industry.

BH:  We’re trying to embed the excitement of Industry 4.0 into the DNA of the education system and across the vocational skills agenda. We already create Key Stage 2 content for teachers and support applied learning opportunities such as Hackathons.  Another initiative we actively support is GreenPower which enables school children to apply learning through competition in designing, building and racing electric carts.

Post-16 we are currently training around 560 apprentices and 120 graduates across our UK businesses and are actively working with colleges and universities to develop up to date content aligned to the needs of Industry 4.0.

DE: Via the Made Smarter North West pilot, businesses can attend workshops and utilise specialists who will help enhance SME workforce skills. Businesses can also access student placements to support the implementation of digital technology projects and skills development.  Strong leadership skills are essential to drive this change. The Made Smarter Leadership development programme delivered by Lancaster University Management School will equip business leaders with the vision, the skills and an approach to pursue smarter manufacturing.

The Made Smarter national skills group is working work across engineering and manufacturing sectors to identify the future skills needs of employers. The results will be shared with BEIS and DfE to inform and develop the required technical infrastructure.

What impact are these measures having? 

NJ: We have growth in apprenticeship numbers and those progressing to higher level study. We are also experiencing growth in programmes such as Technical Support, Robotics, CNC/CAD and design, along with improved and increased engagement with large multi-national organisations. We have excellent case studies from companies with increased productivity and technical/digital abilities of their apprentices, who are positively impacting on their business.

BH By focusing on the skills gap we are developing capabilities and recruiting talent for the future now. New recruits are influencing the future of our organisation, actively shaping our business, our culture and our approach to problem solving and technology adoption.

To offer a concrete example, our ‘Junior Factory’ operating in Congleton is a factory within a factory – run entirely by apprentices. It has its own management team; a managing director, a finance director and other roles too. It reshored the assembly of fans that are used inside our variable speed drives that are sold across the world. That’s an applied learning opportunity that delivers impact in a real production environment.

DE: The immediate priority is for industry and government to increase IDT skills in the existing workforce.  This will be achieved in conjunction with employers who can seize the opportunity to upskill the workforce through development of their employees. Young people will acquire basic digital skills by default, but to be truly employable more advanced skills are required.  Made Smarter has set an ambitious goal to reskill and upskill a million workers over the next five years. Its focus, although not exclusively, will be on SME workers (who represent a third of industrial sector employees). This will be achieved by the increased coordination of IDT-related skills initiatives through The Institute of Coding, the upcoming Institutes of Technology, The National College Programme, The National Re-Training scheme, Apprenticeship programmes, and the wider further and higher education system.

Inside Siemens’ Junior Factory

What advice would you give to other organisations looking to build their in-house Industry 4.0 expertise?

NJ: Understand the challenge you are trying to solve, deliver solutions through ‘agile sprints’ that come together as larger solutions, embrace failure (experiments) but learn from your experiments – and be prepared to ask others for help starting on your digital transformation.

BH:  By 2022, UK industry needs to recruit 1.8m engineers. We need to increase the numbers we are training and ensure that we have people who are multi-skilled and understand Industry 4.0 trends such as virtualisation, mass-customisation, data analytics and servitisation.

We need to tap into the experience of the ‘valve whisperers’ before they leave the industry

We won’t build factories in the future without digital simulation and will be increasingly reliant on data for decisions. Today’s trends will increasingly impact companies regardless of size which is why it’s worth investing in skills and pilot adoption activity today to help start a productivity journey anchored in emerging Digital technologies.

Many workforces also feature mature talent at one end, apprentices and graduates at the other, with a gap in the middle. To fill that gap we need to tap into the experience of the ‘valve whisperers’ before they leave the industry and get them to download their knowledge to the next generation…

DE: Develop a road map for digital transformation within your business. Ask yourself where your business will be in 2, 5 or even 10 years and what skill-sets you will need. Industrial digital technology adoption is not all about ‘techies’ – there are a variety of skill-sets required, from analytical thinking, information management, problem solving, understanding and interpreting data. Think broadly about the skills most useful for your business and transferable skills which will play a key part. Utilise the specialist support Made Smarter offers by registering at madesmarter.uk and review the skills matrix to identify new or emerging skills which your business may need in the future.