Automation can increase efficiency and reduce costs, for example in food & beverage manufacturing
Currently, workers from the EU have the right to travel and work freely across European borders. However, key statistics of net migration from the Office of National Statistics
in the UK, show that net migration to the UK has been significantly reduced since 2016. With the announcement of Brexit, and the ensuing uncertainty around it, UK factories are perhaps no longer a viable destination for European workers.
Automation, robotics and digitisation have been hot topics in recent years, and this has increased manufacturers’ awareness of adopting technology solutions to increase their competitiveness. Many manufacturers are now looking to implement automation technologies to increase efficiency and effectiveness of their operations. Put simply, automating manual handling tasks allows the human workforce to focus on more tasks requiring creative thinking, decision-making or management, leaving the repetitive and arduous jobs to the robots.
We have seen a steady increase in interest in robotic technologies since the outcome of the EU referendum. The interest has been mainly for pick and place applications for fixed robots, but also line replenishment and factory intralogistics operations for mobile robots. It seems the looming Brexit has been a catalyst for manufacturers to find new solutions to increase efficiency in their operations. Robotics in industrial automation can certainly support them in this effort.
Can robots also create new jobs?
With the decrease in migration, recruiting and retaining good talent is more important than ever. Implementing robots in industrial automation can actually increase employment opportunities. By replacing certain monotonous, repetitive tasks, automation will free up the workforce to take on more challenging, productive roles, while the uptake of Industrial Digitalisation Technologies (IDT) could result in a 25% productivity boost in the UK, creating 175,000 new jobs over the next 10 years. At the same time, 203,000 people with level 3+ engineering skills are needed through to 2024 and the annual shortfall is projected to be at least 59,000.
Many manufacturing and engineering businesses noticed a lack of suitable candidates applying for roles, and realised they had to do something different. As well as filling new positions, much of the workforce was approaching retirement age and businesses were finding themselves in danger of losing entire skill sets. As such, the most forward-thinking firms are creating their own talent pipeline by launching apprenticeship programmes.
With current and former apprentices making a tangible difference to businesses, apprenticeship plans continue to grow across the sector, and many are undergoing a detailed skills analysis to highlight future staff and knowledge shortages and take steps to address them now, before they affect the business.
Looking to the future
However, apprenticeships are just the starting point – continued investment in developing staff and the intention to keep people for a long time is key. By placing apprentices in roles deemed ‘at risk’, firms can plan for the future, finding suitable candidates for roles that can be challenging to fill. Apprentices may not have all the skills from the offset, but they can benefit from learning in-depth the theory behind a role, while being able to apply this practically, delivering value and efficiency.
With current and former apprentices making tangible differences to businesses across the sector, engineering and manufacturing apprenticeship schemes continue to grow. At Omron we’re looking to develop a graduate scheme, and are undergoing a detailed skills analysis to highlight future staff and knowledge shortages and take steps to address them now – before they affect the business.
Automation may be the future, but it relies on good staff to make it work. Put simply, apprentices are crucial to the future success of the whole industry. Businesses need to invest in young people to close the skills gap and plan for the future.