Report urges government to retrain a million industrial workers in digital tech

BEIS-commissioned study claims embracing industrial digitalisation technology could boost economy by £455bn in next 10 years

Workers whose livelihoods are affected by automation should be offered incentives and financial support to retrain, a government-commissioned report has recommended  Credit: Adobe Stock

A report commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has called on the government and the private sector to work together to retrain a million workers in the industrial sector on digital technologies.

The Made Smarter Review, which was launched in January of this year, examines how the UK can become a global leader in the use of “industrial digitalisation technology” (IDT). It finds that the UK’s success in the sector is currently being stymied by three factors: lack of effective leadership; poor levels of adoption; and under-leveraged innovation.

The report makes a series of recommendations that it believes could help the UK become a world-leading force in the IDT sector by 2030, boosting the UK economy by almost £455bn over the next decade and creating 175,000 jobs.

Its first recommendation is to “create a much more visible and effective digital ecosystem to accelerate the innovation and diffusion of IDT”. Within this overarching goal, it puts forward four individual proposals, the first being to create a national adoption programme.

This programme, the report claims, would be “owned at a regional level by local enterprise partnerships”. The report recommends a pilot in north-west England, followed by a nationwide rollout that, it estimates, could add £770m of value to the economy.

The report also recommends that the government brings together existing regional “digital innovation hubs” and unite them in a “national innovation programme”. Additionally, it proposes the rollout of “Digital Transformational Demonstrator programmes” in regional hubs, a project which the report claims could be co-funded by government and the private sector. 

The final proposal for a national ecosystem is to create a UK network of “digital research centres” spanning five technology areas: artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics; additive manufacturing; robotics and automation; virtual reality and augmented reality; the industrial internet of things and connectivity.

The report’s second recommendation is to offer training on digital technologies to a million workers in the industrial sector over the next five years. Within this recommendation are three specific proposals.

The first is to create a national body to oversee skills requirements and work with government and commercial entities to try and ensure they are met. The second proposal is to create a digital platform for training delivery, and the third is that government and industry offer appropriate incentives and compensation to companies and individuals – particularly those whose jobs are impacted by automation.

The third of the report’s recommendations is to establish “stronger leadership and branding of the country’s ambition to be a global pioneer in IDT”. Three individual proposals are contained within this recommendation.

The first is to roll out a “major national brand campaign… to significantly increase awareness of how new digital technologies can transform industry”. Such a campaign would be jointly delivered by the public and private sector, the report suggests.

The second proposal is the establishment of a Made Smarter UK Commission, bringing together representatives of industry, research, academia, and government – including a minister as co-chair. The commission would “provide a market-focused view on IDT priorities, and ensure the faster innovation, adoption, and diffusion of IDT to drive maximum value for the UK economy”, according to the report. It would also oversee the national skills body proposed as part of its second recommendation.

Its third proposal for branding and leadership is to set up interim “strategy and support implementation groups” to manage the rollout of the report’s recommendations.

The fourth, and last of the recommendations is to “address the key barriers preventing adoption of IDT”. Here, there are three proposals for action.

The first of these is to set up a standards development programme to promote interoperability among IDT products. The second is to develop financial incentives – including capital allowances and tax credits – to boost companies’ development and adoption of IDT. 

The third proposal is to “develop data trusts to overcome one of the biggest inhibitors in exploiting IDT in manufacturing: a reluctance to share data”.

In his foreword to the report, Siemens CEO Juergen Maier writes: “Industry is committed to working in partnership with government through a sector deal to revive UK manufacturing, and firmly believes that only this combined package of measures, which go beyond business as usual and historical offerings, will achieve the level of ambition needed for the UK to be a world leader of the fourth industrial revolution.”


Sam Trendall

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