Lancaster graduates help plug digital skills gap in region’s manufacturers

Two graduates from Lancaster are helping plug the digital skills gap in the region’s manufacturers after technology adoption.

Thursday, 28th January 2021, 3:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th January 2021, 4:10 pm
Playdale.

Greg Saul and Lewis Cookson secured positions with manufacturers through Made Smarter’s digital internship programme.

The programme, which has so far connected 31 university students and graduates with manufacturers to work on live digital transformation projects, enables business to benefit from the fresh insight of a digital native to help them adopt technological tools that result in a raft of benefits, including increased revenue growth, reduced production time, and produce the data and insight for new product and market development.

Meanwhile, undergraduates, masters and PhD students, as well as graduates from UK universities, benefit from paid work experience, valuable hands-on practical work experience, a taste of a potential career path, and a foot in the door of a forward-thinking company or industry.

Greg Saul, Made Smarter digital technology intern.

A number have even secured permanent jobs.

SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) manufacturers joining the Industry 4.0 revolution are driving up the demand for data science and software engineering skills by putting data and systems integration at the heart of their digital transformation.

By embracing technologies which connect disparate systems and unify data residing in different sources, companies are spotting trends in production, labour, maintenance and quality issues. They are also able to minimise safety risks, business risk and operational downtime throughout their production.

But while this technology is solving business challenges and driving growth, it is also highlighting a digital skills gap across industry and emphasising the need for existing workforces to be upskilled.

Ruth Hailwood, Made Smarter’s specialist organisational and workforce development adviser.

Ruth Hailwood, Made Smarter's specialist organisational and workforce development adviser, has worked with many of the 1,200 businesses engaged with Made Smarter’s pilot to map the skills they need to introduce new digital tools and technologies.

“The fact that so many SME manufacturers across the region have committed to investing in new technology projects in the two years since the pilot started, demonstrates the significant appetite for digital tools and solutions,” she said. “And the impact of Covid-19 has only accelerated the desire to speed up digital transformation.

“Data and systems integration projects have emerged as the enabler for businesses to embrace other technologies such as AI, IIOT, Simulation and analytics, taking in more than half of all funded projects

“But what has also become clear is that SME manufacturers lack the key data analytics skills to be able to make best use of what their data is telling them.

Lewis Cookson, Made Smarter digital technology intern.

“With so many businesses using data and system integration technologies it is vital that companies invest in data science skills and software engineering to capitalise on all the new information. They need in-house skills to champion and drive projects forward.”

Greg, 23, a graduate in Product Design and Technology from Loughborough University, is working with Playdale Playgrounds, based in Ulverston, which has ambitions to become a fully digital factory, integrating the design and manufacturing processes, and using IIoT sensors to capture real-time performance and predictive maintenance data.

He has been working on a data and systems project which has reduced design time by 20% and improved the quality of presentation for customers.

Greg said: “I supported Playdale by proposing new software and streamlining the design process to improve workflow from planning to presentation. The results have been fantastic.

“It has been a rewarding experience to be able to bring in my skillset to the business and support their vision for the future.”

Paul Mallinson, Technical and Operations Director at Playdale, said: “The crux of the challenge is that while we have a crystal-clear awareness of what we need to do, we struggle with the resource and skills to drive it forward.

“We are fortunate to have Greg on board, bringing his ability and focus on technology projects, and we are looking to upskill our younger, more digitally capable workforce, but the lack of available skills is slowing down our progress.

“The difficulty is that while the skills demanded by modern manufacturing are starting to emerge through colleges and universities, it will be five to 10 years before they are more readily available, and we need those skills now.”

Lewis, a graduate in BSc Computer Science & Digital Forensics from Northumbria University, was paired with Crystal Doors, a manufacturer of bespoke vinyl wrapped furniture components based in Rochdale.

He has been supporting the implementation of a data and systems integration project which will establish a network of sensors connecting their machines through the cloud onto a dashboard. This will enable Crystal to gain insights into how its machines are performing and identify potential efficiencies.

Lewis, 23, said: “Crystal Doors has some very exciting plans for the future and it is fantastic to be part of that journey, capturing and displaying real time data analysis for the first time, supporting the betterment of the company, and playing a role in reducing carbon emissions.

“It is exciting for me to be able to take my specialism and skills and apply them to a real life situation and see the results. The progress we have made so far ellipses everything that has been achieved in recent years. We are making great strides.”

Ben Horn, Digital Transformation Programme Manager at Crystal Doors, said: “By bringing on Lewis through Made Smarter we have doubled the pace of the transformation. His input has been incredible and an injection of rocket fuel into our project.”

The Made Smarter Review identified skills shortage as a major barrier to technology adoption and that businesses are being hindered by a fragmented skills system and a lack of systematic engagement between education and industry.

Recent research by the Made Smarter North West Pilot revealed 8 out of 10 manufacturers recognised that gaps in their skills and knowledge were potentially impacting on their ability to adopt digital technologies.

Ruth added: “The challenge manufacturing SMEs are facing is that the skills and training landscape is mixed. There are some very basic digital skills offerings, and then at the other extreme, the training is very technical and specialised. What’s missing is the in-between for SMEs. SME owners need something that focuses on building understanding of digital technologies and how they can be used as tools to take their business forward, taking away the fear of the unknown.

“That is what Made Smarter is about, demystifying this technology and removing that fear factor.

“What is also needed for SMEs around specific skill sets, is training that has a high impact, is flexible to allow them to fit it around their workload and business demands and gives them practical skills to implement straight away, bringing immediate benefit.”