Automation and the need to upskill staff


Following the recent creation of its Universities and Industry Collaboration group, GAMBICA’s, Nikesh Mistry looks at the link between the adoption of factory automation and the resultant need to upskill staff.

Automation is transforming the way we work, in our factories, our homes, our cars, our white goods and more. For many, the acceptance of new technologies is second nature; however, it can be too overwhelming for others. Since the global pandemic outbreak, the need for automation, in the forms of secure remote maintenance, home working capability, and even education, has become essential rather than a novelty. We’ve accelerated ten years of technological advancements into ten months of uncertainty.

However, the biggest opportunity ahead is not for automation or technology. There is a huge opportunity for our existing and future workforce. The World Economic Forum has indicated that the movement towards automation will create 97 million new jobs by 2025. This is a fantastic figure, but it will only be achievable if we upskill our existing workforce and train our graduates in the new skills needed.

The skills gap is a recurring topic amongst GAMBICA members. We must address this by paying close attention to areas where we can apply new skills to help employees maintain efficacy. At GAMBICA, we have created a new Universities and Industry Collaboration group that explores how industry and academia can collaborate in the areas of teaching and career development, research, policy and sharing best practice. GAMBICA will explore the methods and techniques that could be used to deliver value to students, university staff and industry members to augment teaching materials and equipment, offer relevant work placements, focus research, access industrial technology & data and ultimately retain talent in careers in our industry.

This is just one way to move closer to a better-skilled future workforce. Automation alone, and I cannot stress this enough, does not make the entire workplace more efficient. Yes, it replaces mundane tasks prone to repeatability errors, but merely adopting technology to replace manual operations does not automatically improve efficiency.

The key to the fourth industrial revolution and the movement towards digitalisation is humanity’s ability to co-exist with connected technologies such as robots and artificial intelligence. This relates to the renowned theory of the Paradox of Automation. This paradox states that the more efficient the automated system, the more vital the human involvement is. Indeed, automation requires less human intervention; however, it is far more crucial when needed. The key here is to have qualified human managers and controllers capable of dealing with any mishaps that may occur from automation.

Take, for example, the introduction of VAR in football. It seems that the more that VAR is being used, the more intervention it requires from officials and referees to ensure that the VAR is, in fact, correct. Given the advancement in technology, VAR can discover even the most minute of decisions, but this has required the referees to upskill themselves, to make their decisions more thorough, and to learn how to interpret the VAR decisions. This is similar to the effect of automation on industry: taking technology which already exists, implementing it to solve a key problem, and then upskilling humans to be able to use it to its maximum capacity.

Better calculated business decisions need to be made and understood for the UK manufacturing sector to excel in the future. While devastating in essence, the pandemic has awakened the industry to the importance of contingency plans and foolproof systems. Reshoring is already taking place with Cadbury and many other companies moving production back to the UK, aiming to ensure that our industry is future-proofed. These are just the beginnings of the UK journey after Brexit, and if we continue to focus on skills, development and sustainability in the way that we have done through the past ten months, we will be sure to achieve a higher level of worldwide competitivity.


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