AI, machine learning, sensors and automation technology will boost Britain’s competitive edge in global commerce, yet a lack of skills stands in the way of immediate investment, new research has found.
A study from Barclays Corporate Banking has shown that 83% of manufacturers are confident about Britain’s ability to compete in the international marketplace over the next five years, with two-fifths attributing their optimism to fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies including AI.
Just over half (51%) of manufacturers report smart technology has improved productivity, yet 43% have not invested in 4IR at all. One in five decision makers said they were not clear on what the return on investment would be, with one in three citing a dearth of information on tangible benefits of AI and machine learning as a main drawback.
However, economic projections included in the report put potential gains for the manufacturing sector at £102bn per year by 2026, as well as the injection of 101,000 additional direct jobs and 44,000 indirect jobs by 2026 if leaders invest in smart factory technologies.
AI will free up staff to focus on more complex skilled work, according to one in three decision-makers in the manufacturing industry. 4IR technologies such as sensors, big data, energy self-generation and machine learning looks set to boost employment in the North West, Yorkshire and Humber, the West Midlands and East England, according to the research.
Currently, lack of skilled workers is a main reason for one in five (21%) manufacturers holding back on investment in 4IR. In addition, 40% of those with doubts over the UK’s ability to keep its competitive edge on the global stage cite the reason for their pessimism being difficulties in recruitment due to a skills shortage.
Mike Rigby, Head of Manufacturing at Barclays, called winter 2017 “a watershed” for the sector. “While the outlay may seem expensive for many at a time of uncertainty, the industry needs to raise its levels of investment in the skills and infrastructure needed to harness these new technologies.”
While now may not be the right time for some to invest in 4IR, over three-quarters (78%) of manufacturers are committed to investing in automated technologies within five years; more than two-thirds see machine learning technologies as beneficial game changers.
Barclays Corporate Banking gathered opinions of 508 decision makers in manufacturing in September 2017.