In this feature Jon Blaze, at Jonathan Lee Contract Recruitment, will explore how the use of specialised contractors can help businesses looking at implementing Industry 4.0.
Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), has dominated the headlines over the past few years, with businesses increasingly looking to adopt technology such as robotics and automation, artificial intelligence and remote monitoring of production lines to increase efficiency. In manufacturing industries such as pharmaceuticals, transportation, FMCG and utilities, this increased focus on digital technology, including the use of big data, is a key differentiator; helping to futureproof businesses and improve overall equipment effectiveness and efficiency (OEEE) to provide a more technologically advanced offering to its customers and supply chain.
Concepts such as robotics and automation are increasingly becoming a reality, with collaborative research projects involving manufacturers, suppliers, universities and industry-focused manufacturing R&D centres helping to develop process and production systems. For example, a BAE Systems research project, led by Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and involving KUKA Systems UK to enable robots to accurately machine holes in composite aircraft components, has matured into a production system and is on track to save millions of pounds in capital and operational costs over the coming years. This is just a single example of how industries are to both advance capabilities, improve OEEE, whilst creating time and cost savings.
However, a recent study from the University of Warwick found that many businesses are failing to harness the full potential of 4IR. This is attributed to a range of factors including the lack of an integrated supply chain, the absence of products within the business capable of customisation and a deficit in advanced skills within the business. The creation and roll-out of a 4IR strategy is a large investment for any business and it is crucial that it is carefully considered and managed throughout.
It is becoming apparent that there is a large gap in the skills of existing staff and sourcing people capable of guiding a business through the adoption of new technologies. The skills shortage is not just limited to the areas of High Level Machine Intelligence (HLMI) and artificial intelligence (AI), but also impacts the talent who are best positioned to scope and apply Industry 4.0 concepts to a business.
Industry 4.0 concepts are not straightforward to comprehend let alone implement within a business. To fully understand all elements required in the application of 4IR is complex and is often best navigated by specialists with extensive experience in system integration, an in-depth knowledge of automation and robotics and/or a proven background in process implementation.
But demand for skilled engineers in the UK is substantial, with figures from Engineering UK concluding that at least 265,000 engineers will be needed each year until 2024. The additional challenge of finding and attaining highly skilled and, often, high value individuals to navigate and lead a business through 4IR can be considerable. For scoping, training, testing, implementation and a full roll-out of Industry 4.0 strategy, businesses should be considering a more agile approach.
Recent research conducted by Jonathan Lee Contract Recruitment showed a growth in preference for experienced professional contractors to undertake projects rather than full-time, permanent positions. This was particularly true for highly-skilled workers with specialist technical knowledge and significant breadth of experience.
Those surveyed reported they wanted greater flexibility with the projects they undertake and contracting could meet this need. From a company point of view, this makes workers more accessible to a broader range of companies looking for specialist knowledge – including related 4IR skills, if only for a short-term or project basis.
With the current shortage of skilled workers across a myriad of industries potentially one of the most constraining factors for the implementation of productivity improvement programmes and more specifically 4IR, companies have the opportunity to tap into this flexible, trained and experienced workforce to help bridge the skills gap. The trend for contract work is an excellent solution for the pressing skills problem regarding 4IR. Technological advances, automation, big data and Industry 4.0 are all driving change in manufacturing, and UK industry must adapt if it is to remain competitive in the future and on the world stage.
Contractors can help businesses to adapt their operations to new markets, with their sought-after expertise helping to bring clarity to decision making and help steer the strategic direction of a business. Their experience can make a difference within a relatively short space of time, at the same time as transferring knowledge and capabilities to the existing workforce.
The dynamic and fast-changing technological landscape makes the contract or interim option especially attractive as companies plan for uncertainty, look to adopt new technologies, deal with fast-changing market realities and strive to improve productivity. For businesses investing in 4IR processes and technologies, the use of contractors affords them flexibility to take on specialists, providing expert guidance and advice throughout the implementation stages. This can not only help futureproof a business, but also negate the need to hire permanent staff for shorter term projects within the 12 to 18 month timeframe.